In his letter to the Romans we find Paul’s most developed and articulate theology, including many explorations of redemption.
Over the next few days, I’d like to explore all the Romans readings in the Reconciliation Lectionary and unpack some of that apostle’s thoughts as they are given to us in the context of the Sacrament of Penance.
Brothers and sisters:
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is no distinction;
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation,
through faith, by his Blood, to prove his righteousness
because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed,
through the forbearance of God—
to prove his righteousness in the present time,
that he might be righteous
and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.
In Israelite culture, the notion of redemption overrode the instinct to trample the needy. The book of Ruth is a classic tale of such redemption. While many see it as a romantic interlude as we move from the Judges to the Kingdom, not worthy of much attention in the liturgy. Too bad, because it forms part of the theological and pastoral foundation for the Church’s practice of reconciliation.
From the earliest time of the Israelite nation, there was inculcated in the well-off a sense of responsibility for others. This is what the book of Ruth is about. The example of Jesus transcends even that. Not only does he heal and cure and listen and lift up and walk with others. He allowed himself to be trampled, as Paul says here below, to “prove his righteousness.”
Does a penitent need such proof? And when we are confronted with such an act, does it inspire us to move beyond a passive reception of the Sacrament? Are we urged to cooperate more fully with the grace of God working in us?
Circling back to Ruth, remember that the title character and her mother-in-law are redeemed by the wealthy relative, Boaz. But Ruth herself performs an act of redemption, even before she is exposed to faith in Israel itself. The young widow offers her own life in service to the older widow. Redemption is an inspiration from God. And it may well come from outside the boundaries of faith, if such persons are open to God’s inner urgings.
And resting finally with Paul, consider those first lines. All may believe. All have sinned. Christ redeems all. When we have the urging of insight, that grace of awareness, it is incumbent on us to move with that. And it can happen to anyone, even those outside the accustomed boundaries of religion.