What makes us do the right thing? Is it fear of punishment from breaking God’s rules or is it a thirst for God’s righteousness? In our current situation, do we ‘socially distance’ because that is the Government rule or because we don’t want to transmit the disease to someone else? Of course, the answer is probably both and, in any case, the two are not mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, this is precisely the dilemma that the Apostle Paul deals with in the book of Romans in our assigned reading for this week. The early Christians were unable to break from an obsession with the Jewish law, but Paul suggests there is something better – God’s grace! All that the law can do is highlight sin. In this sense, focusing only on the law makes you a slave to sin. In contrast, Paul says you are no longer subject to the law, instead you are set free by God’s grace, and slaves to righteousness.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus spells out the positive nature of discipleship. It is not about abstaining from certain types of behaviour but, rather, demonstrating grace to everyone we come across: “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” In the Old Testament, the classic example of a man living by righteousness and not by the law was Abraham. Abraham never lived by the law because the law didn’t exist at that time and yet Abraham’s faith in being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac was credited to him as righteousness. The psalmist acknowledges the source of this grace. It is God’s unfailing love, demonstrated through Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension which replaces everything that the law could ever be. Don’t misunderstand me, the law is not bad; the law is good, but God’s free gift of grace through Jesus Christ is so much better. This is what should spur us on to do the right thing.
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 22:1-14
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 10:40-42
Epistle reading for this week: Romans 6:12-23
Psalm for this week: Psalm 13