A dramatic reflection on Romans 5: 1 – 11 – Justified by faith?

A scribe is working on the letter to the Romans. The scribe is sitting at a table, muttering while looking over a scroll, pen in hand:

Riddles, riddles, riddles…

‘Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…’

What on earth did he mean, that fall – oops – Paul guy? Freudian!! Sorry!

I mean, what did he mean? That’s the problem with this Greek, no punctuation. I mean you have commas and full stops and what-not. We haven’t.  So what did he mean? You don’t get it?

Well let me read it to you. ‘Therefore since we are justified by faith (exaggerated pause) we have peace with God’. Did he mean that, or did he mean, ‘‘Therefore since we are justified (exaggerated pause) by faith we have peace with God’. See what I mean?

No? Ok, let me spell it out to you. You all seem to think that Paul meant to say that we are justified, made right with God if you like, by faith. No problem with that. Consequence, ‘we have peace with God’.

But I just got to wondering. What if Paul reckoned that we are justified. Accept it! Just trust it is so and that’s the way to peace with God? See what I mean? No? 

Riddles, riddles, riddles…that old scribe playing with words again? I know what you’re thinking. But words are my stock in trade. I do think about them, not just write parrot fashion – if you’ll pardon me mixing  my metaphors?

But perhaps you’re right. I make too much of these details sometimes. I’m a right pedant!

Ok. I’ll get to the point, whatever Paul thinks.

At the end of the day, We have peace with God – don’t we? No beating about the burning bush then?

Wonder what’s next? Think I’ll just make a cuppa (gets up and strolls off).

© Andrew Pratt 14/2/2011

A hymn for reflection and penitence at the New Year’s turning – How can people praise…

1	How can people praise the Godhead,
	save in humble penitence?
	How can we avoid the verdict
	of these years' indifference?
	If our God has come among us
	then we have betrayed a call;
	out of selfish pride our grasping
	puts our gain ahead of all.

2	If that God was born among us
	then the people of that birth
	suffered taunting and derision,
	persecution on this earth.
	Driven from their given cradle,
	scattered seeds upon the wind;
	Christians led that desecration
	and, we wonder, will it end?

3	Holocaust, crusades, apartheid,
	inquisition, slavery,
	all have had a Christian presence,
	justifying butchery;
	every century adds locations
	pictured on a map or chart
	scenes of human devastation
	hatred honed, become an art.

4	Now we stand and, just like Peter,
	we've no cause to strut or crow,
	we are self-deceived if claiming
	righteousness, our debts you know:
	debts of love we owe each other,
	debts we never can repay;
	for two thousand years' denial
	Lord forgive, for this we pray.

5	Enter rooms of desolation,
	bring your love to cleanse, to spare;
	'Peace be with you', once you uttered,
	let us hear and let us share;
	bring us from this darkest moment
	into dazzling, gleaming light,
	as the new year’s day is dawning
	end the horror of our night.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
Words © 2001(alt 2022)  Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England copyright@stainer.co.uk . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Metre: 8 7 8 7 D

A reflection for Holy Week

When I opened my social media one morning I caught the comment, in relation to nothing in particular, ‘that’ll wait till after Easter’. Some things won’t. And in another sense some things can’t, shouldn’t be hidden or avoided. I don’t want to be a spoil sport, nor to confront us with things that are just too painful in a world which has pain enough of itself.
Come Easter day it will all be daffodils and Easter eggs, children and fun. Well not quite all. But that is jumping the gun. Let me take you back to the beginning of this, so called ‘Holy Week’.
Some people like to look at the whole drama of this week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday as ‘part of God’s plan’. I think that diminishes God. It doesn’t speak of the God I see in Jesus, or even the pages of the Hebrew scriptures. The events of this week are less planned, more inevitable; earthly as much as heavenly.

Remember that Jesus is a man, God become human, but a man. God does not put his ‘son’, through unimaginable cruelty. Charles Wesley had it right speaking of God ‘contracted to a span, incomprehensibly man’, a God who ‘emptied himself of all but love.’ So this Jesus is God. But he is human, like you and me. Very special, yet nothing special at all. Growing up he had witnessed religious corruption. That is not an anti-semitic comment. The church is just as riddled with corruption today. Occasionally people rise above it, but it is a human characteristic, built into our DNA. We are hard-wired for self-preservation and that makes us want to clamber to the top of the pile. Now and again we managed to repress our natural instincts and become a little more kind, a mite more gracious. Anyway, I digress.

Jesus rode a donkey into an occupied city at the time of a religious festival. Stirred up a crowd. If anything could be calculated to raise the temperature, rather than calm the conflict, that was its precursor. He challenged the religious people, over-turned the tables of the money changers, caused chaos. Then just walked away. Deals are done, silver changes hands, plots are elaborated. In the midst of all of this he shares a meal with his friends. Then an arrest is executed. Now this becomes political. Pilate is confronted rather than ignored. A charge is brought, a thief is dismissed. The dice is thrown, the deed is done. And this Jesus is brutally murdered.

Tortured, beaten, scarred and tainted,
Not a picture deftly painted,
More a tattered, battered being,
Torn, disfigured, stark, unseeing.
Muscles twisted, strained, contorted,
Body dangling, bruised, distorted.
Life blood drying, sun-baked, stinging,
Hatred, bitter hatred, flinging.

Crowds insensate, tempers vented,
Full of anger, discontented.
Curses scattered, insults flying,
Spurned, derided, God is dying.

And the women wait and watch. And the crowds disperse.
The single reason for this death is not, I feel, some cosmic, metaphysical plan but rather the consequence met out to anyone who seeks to embody to the uttermost the love of God. People leave the church when it is suggested that someone THEY consider unworthy is acceptable, is loved by God. Others say the church should not be political when it overturns their fiscal tables and hints that the poor have needs. I am trying to put this delicately because I don’t have Jesus’ courage or willingness to self-sacrifice. 
But the way I see it, this Easter story is less some master plan and more a parable demonstrating how we need to live with each other in this world now. As I think Christian Aid once put it, life before death, and that for everyone, the have-nots as well as we who have. And it is a warning for those of us who seek to be Christian, that it is not always a popular path to take. It has as much, if not more to say, about how we live now, holding all humanity in God’s love, than what happens when we die. 

Do hold fast to faith in resurrection if you have it, but being Christian ought to have as much to do with how we live now and love our neighbours as with what comes hereafter. For this latter, well I’m happy to trust that to God. 

Art © Andrew Pratt; Poem © 1997 Stainer & Bell Ltd