I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith."
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God
and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands
. Day unto day takes up the story
and night unto night makes known the message. (R./)
No speech, no word, no voice is heard
yet their span goes forth through all the earth,
their words to the utmost bounds of the world. (R./)
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.
According to St Paul, the visible manifestation of God's power in the created world leads the mind to know the reality of the Creator. Jesus insists that the inside of the cup is more important than what is outside, and generosity is more essential than the washing of hands. The passage from Romans moves from the outside in, the gospel from the inside out.
The Epistle to the Romans is not easily interpreted. Paul's mind is full to bursting as he glides from one aspect of salvation to another. His ideas come into focus in one key theme, that the just person lives by faith. For him, Faith implies fidelity and trust over the long run. He sees the capacity for faith as imbedded in each person's soul. True to his Jewish tradition, "justice" is a basic value for Paul. It means that God, humanity, and the entire created universe should live up to their proper nature. Actions flow from nature. God is just by keeping the covenant with his people. When Paul says that the gospel reveals "the justice of God which begins and ends with faith," he means to say that God's fidelity is the firm foundation for our faith and our hope.
Jesus calls for the active expression of faith through works of love. We should give whatever we can as alms. We are to care for the needy and be generous to them. Then, "everything will be clean for you." This is a curious thought. Hygiene and cleanliness are more of a challenge for poor people than for the more leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have as easy access to washing facilities. Was this why Jesus had not washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee's house?
The warning "not to miss the wood for the trees" is about the danger of losing sight of essentials. An example of this tendency was when a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to a meal was taken aback that his guest did not wash his hands before eating. Why not observe the usual Jewish rituals? In answer, Jesus accuses the Pharisees as a group of being preoccupied with external rules while ignoring some essential values, such as giving alms to the poor. In our faith, we constantly need to keep returning to the basics.
During the Second Vatican Council in the mid 20th century the whole Church was invited to get back to essentials. Saint Paul too focussed on essentials when describing the our Christian identity "The one who is righteous will live by faith." Later he states his view more plainly, "what matters is faith that operates through love." Basic Christianity can be summarised as faith working through love. Our faith in Jesus is proven by love, letting the love of Christ flow through us to others. Everything else is secondary.