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.
While he 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.
In today's text from Romans, we hear of the visible manifestation of God's eternal power within the created world and are gradually led to the invisible reality of God himself. The gospel seems to say that the condition of the inside of the cup is more important than the outside, and generosity more effective than the washing of hands. Romans moves from the outside in, the gospel from the inside out. Galatians seems to hit the happy medium: there ought to be a harmonious blending of faith and love, flesh and spirit, inner and outer cleanliness. If such an integral and peaceful wholeness exists in us, then Paul's ideal of perfect liberty will be ours.
The Epistle to the Romans is not easily interpreted. Paul's ideas seem to shimmer as he glides from one aspect of salvation to another. We can bring the ideas back into focus if we recall the key phrase, so prominent in Galatians (3:11) and now repeated as a dominant theme for the entire Epistle to the Romans, "The just person lives by faith." Faith here implies fidelity and trust over the long run. It recognizes that the mysteries spread across the universe are also deeply imbedded in each person's soul.. The "justice" signifies that God, humanity, and the entire created universe live up to what they are. Actions flow from nature. God is just when. he lives up to his covenantal promises. When Paul writes, "in the gospel is revealed the justice of God which begins and ends with faith," he means to say that God fulfills these convenantal promises in a way beyond all expectation, yet true to his own compassionate self.
Jesus calls for an active expression of faith through works of love: "give what you have as alms." love, therefore, is to be concerned about the needy and generous in attending to them. Then, he concluded, "all will be wiped clean for you." This is a curious thought. The poor and the needy generally have a more difficult time with cleanliness than the wealthy and the leisured class. The poor work longer hours, are involved with dirt, grease and dust, and do not have at hand all the conveniences of hot and cold running water, privacy and energy. Could this be why Jesus had not properly washed his hands before sitting down to eat at the Pharisee's house?
The familiar expression "missing the wood for the trees" warns against the common tendency to lost sight of essentials. A fine example of this tendency is noted in today's gospel, where a Pharisee who had invited Jesus to a meal was taken aback when Our Lord did not observe the usual Jewish rituals of washing before eating. Jesus replies by accusing the Pharisees as a group of being preoccupied with non-essentials while paying little attention to essential values, such as giving alms to the poor. When it comes to our faith, we constantly need to keep returning to the essentials. You could say that the Second Vatican Council was a collective effort on the part of the whole Church to get back to essentials. Saint Paul had a great nose for the essentials when describing the Christian calling. In Galatia, he was up against some Jewish Christians who were insisting on the necessity of the Jewish rite of circumcision for everyone in the Church of Jesus. In today's first reading Paul states the essentials plainly, "what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love," or faith working through love. We are called to faith, a personal entrusting of ourselves to Christ who gave himself for us in love upon the cross. Our faith is to find expression in a life of love, in a life that allows the love of Christ, to which we entrust ourselves, to flow through us and touch the lives of others. Paul would say that everything else is secondary.