May 30, 2023 – Romans 2:1-16
I grew up going to a specific Lutheran camp in the Rocky Mountains multiple times every summer. I felt at home there and loved that place to the degree that I could run through the woods at night without a flashlight without worrying about hitting a tree—much less getting lost. After I grew up, I didn’t go back for a few years, and then when I finally did, I was appalled to see that big changes had been made. The cabins were remodeled, and new ones were built. The old potbelly stoves that warmed them were replaced with electric heaters. The familiar, rustic signs around the camp were updated with new, flashy ones. Worst of all, some of the things I used to have access to were padlocked and off-limits!
Maybe this can help us relate just a little bit to the experience of the Jewish Christians in Rome. We know from several sources (including Acts 18:2) that Claudius, the Roman emperor, blamed the city’s problems on the Jews and banished every last person of Jewish heritage from Rome. Remember that the church grew first among Jewish people and Christianity only spread to Gentiles later. Half of the Roman church was Jewish until overnight, the church’s leadership and culture became very Gentile and stayed that way until the Jews were let back into Rome five years later.
My silly story about camp doesn’t do justice to the terror and heartbreak they must have felt when they were exiled from their homes, and I imagine that many of them didn’t have anywhere to go. How do you think it felt when they learned they could come back home? How do you think they took it when they came back to their church community to see it had moved on and kept growing without them… worst of all, their cherished traditions had been replaced! There were already deep divisions between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and this had to feel like salt in the wound.
Unity is one of Paul’s goals in writing Romans, but he doesn’t want them to just go along to get along. Paul knows that the transformation power of the gospel is the only solution. Now go back and read Romans 1:29-32. Paul does not pull his punches! Imagine being a Gentile Christian whose very culture and past life resemble everything Paul is speaking against. They probably felt a little uncomfortable! Now imagine you are a Jewish Christian who—on top of resenting those Gentiles—has had a hard road but always did your best to stay kosher and observe the law to the letter. They probably felt more than a little vindicated! I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not as bad as those Gentiles! Let ‘em have it, Paul!
However, Paul is just warming them up for chapter 2. They have followed the law, but not perfectly. They need to know they are saved by faith and grace, not the law. They need to know humility, and Paul is ready to give it. The key verse here is 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism.”
God of compassion, help me to empathize with the struggles of those around me. Help me to give them every benefit of the doubt, and focus on the good in their lives, not the bad. Make me an amplifier of beauty and harmony, not discord and sin. Amen
Questions for reflections:
- Our culture is very divided too. Who really gets under your skin? What does God think of them?
- Think of people who don’t like Christians. What don’t they like about us? Is there any truth in their complaints requiring us to repent?
- Paul is talking about Christians who judge other Christians, but it also seems like Paul is judging them. Is this inconsistent? How does the concept of separating a person from their actions help?