The word of the day is “ashamed.” In this time of cynicism, we are tempted to stifle our witness to our faith because we fear it would not be understood or even ridiculed. If we face such a temptation, we should pay attention to St. Paul’s words in our reading of Romans 1:1-7; 13-17. Paul begins his epistle with the bold statement, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (OSB vs. 16). Today, as we start reading the book of Romans, we find that if the Gospel is proclaimed with boldness, it has power. But if it is preached with conformity to the world, it is weak.
Glorying in the Gospel
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is the nearest thing in the scriptures to a theological treatise. In this epistle, St. Paul plunges into the depths of the nature of sin and ascends to the heights of the Gospel of salvation. He speaks forcefully of Law and Gospel, sin and grace, faith and works, flesh and Spirit, and discord and unity in the Body of Christ. But in the whole fabric of this crowning work of his career, St. Paul weaves a thread of soaring hope and faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, after he introduces himself, he begins boldly: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel…” (Romans 1:16).
Paul is not embarrassed to be an apostle of the Gospel. Rather he glories in the Cross of Christ that it proclaims (Galatians 6:14). Why does St. Paul begin his letter in this way? Why does one become ashamed of the Gospel?
The Folly of This World and the Wisdom of God
St. Paul recognizes something that we who live in a society of religious toleration and indifference might forget. He puts it bluntly in 1 Corinthians: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). By this, we must understand the absolute difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. If we try to accommodate the wisdom of the Gospel of salvation to the wisdom of this world, they will see it as folly. And ultimately, we will feel disgraced by it as if one must be a fool to believe it. But if we hear and believe the Gospel on its spiritual terms. For us it will be the power of God to save us.
Chrysostom warns, “There is nothing worse than that man should measure and judge of divine things by human reasoning” (NfPf1:13, 479). The great preacher says that heresies flow from attempts to apply human thinking to the divine will and works of God. We might add that when the Gospel is preached in human terms to conform to human ways of thinking, it loses its power. The casual, come-as-you-are Christianity that is so popular these days is a prime example of this powerlessness. Lackadaisical preaching in human terms does not convict. Thus, it does not lead to conviction and change of heart.
But in today’s reading, St. Paul has announced his agenda. He is about to proclaim the Gospel in the boldest, most daring, most forceful way. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to grant us the wisdom from above to hear and believe what he is about to say as we read his letter. And let us pray that we speak of our faith without shame or reservation.