This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
The Example of Abraham
4What then are we to say was gained by* Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?2For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.3For what does the scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’4Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.5But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.6So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness irrespective of works:
7 ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin.’
9 Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’10How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised.11He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them,12and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
Paul wants to show that the “rightness” which comes from trusting the God who makes wrong people right, is the very same rightness that belonged to Abraham the great father of the Jewish people. Abraham trusted God, Paul says, and it was reckoned to him as rightness. If he had gained this rightness of life by obeying the Torah, how could it be “reckoned”, Paul asks. Through his trusting relationship with God, Abraham was made right. God offers an “advance of trust” to those who trust him; it transforms their lives. Paul interprets circumcision as a seal of this new rightness rather than a precondition of it. For both those within Torah and those outside it, Abraham is the exemplar of trust in God. Paul will go on to say that God’s advance of trust is no mere attitude but is rather a historical fact in Jesus.
I’ve chosen to render the Greek “pistis” usually translated “faith” as “trust” because it is a relational word-faith IN rather than faith THAT. Of course this trust is prompted by a message, assisted by doctrines and expressed in ethical living but the relationship is paramount. The heart of God’s rescue of humanity is simple: h/she has acted in Jesus in a way that invites people to trust him/her.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, ‘Then who can be saved?’26But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’
27 Then Peter said in reply, ‘Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’28Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.29And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold,* and will inherit eternal life.30But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.
Jesus’ joke about the rich man assumes that maybe, without the hump (of wealth), the camel might squeeze through. His reply to Peter emphasises that the way of discipleship leads not to poverty but to the real wealth of life in a community where all the good and bad things of life are shared. This kind of life, which flows from trust in God, offers the “solid joys and lasting treasure which Wesley’s great hymn assigns to “Zion’s children.” This kind of trust in God and God’s family is easier to describe than to give but it is Christianity’s most relevant treasure in a society saturated with the values of the marketplace. It fosters a communal “self-reliance” which goes as far beyond the fashionable recipes of entrepreneurship as beyond the miserable whingeing of those whose taxes are always too high or whose dividends too low.