What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the one against whom the Lord will not reckon sin."
Happy the man whose offence is forgiven,
whose sin is remitted.
O happy the man to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit is no guile. (R./)
But now I have acknowledged my sins;
my guilt I did not hide.
I said: 'I will confess my offence to the Lord.'
And you, Lord, have forgiven the guilt of my sin. (R./)
Rejoice, rejoice in the Lord,
exult, you just!
O come, ring out your joy,
all you upright of heart. (R./)
The people had gathered in their thousands so that they were treading on one another. And Jesus began to speak first of all to his disciples, "Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
"I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God's sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows
In Romans Paul tends to be sober and cautious due to the atmosphere of controversy generated by his earlier epistle to the Galatians. Paul is still battling against the Judaizers in the early Church who required every disciple of Jesus to fully observe of the Mosaic law. He turns to the example of Abraham, to illustrate that justification is by faith rather than by works. The Torah says that "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as justice," but since Abraham preceded Moses by hundreds of years, he could not have observed the Mosaic law. If Paul states this obvious fact, it was meant to counter a tradition that Abraham knew in advance by revelation the entire Mosaic law, and was blessed for obeying it. The wise Ben Sirach had said, "Abraham, father of many peoples, observed the precepts of the Most High, and when tested, he was found loyal. Therefore, God promised him with an oath that in his descendants the nations would be blessed" (Sir 44:19-21).
Paul disdains this later tradition and takes his case back to Genesis. First came God's choice and call (Gen 12), then Abraham's faith (Gen 15) and only later did God require circumcision (Gen 17), and finally Abraham proved himself faithful in a radical, shocking test (Gen 22). If God's gift to Abraham, and like Abraham now to the gentiles, was so freely bestowed, we need no longer think of past sins. Nor will we be concerned about offenses against a law that is no longer binding on us.
Exuberance and liberty of spirit are expressed in today's gospel. What was said in the dark we are to proclaim from rooftops. If our merciful God is concerned about sparrows, then we need to fear nothing. "You are more precious than a whole flock of sparrows." Justification by faith in this God liberates us more than from the law. It makes us free, confident and already part-way to heaven.
God is so involved with the details of creation that even the humble sparrow is not insignificant or forgotten. There is a temptation for those in authority that the more exalted their rank, the less in touch they are with ordinary life. Today's gospel says that this does not apply to God. The Maker of all creation is actively and personally involved with the details of that creation, says Jesus. He coins the memorable image, "not one sparrow is forgotten in God's sight."
Regarding our own lives too, "Every hair on your head has been counted; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows." If even a sparrow is not forgotten in God's sight, how much more is that true of us. Jesus reveals a God who is near to us and cares about our ups and downs, our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures. If this is true, we can speak to God about all our experiences, both in sorrow and joy. We can bring to God the details of our lives in prayer, knowing that he is deeply concerned about us. We can speak from the heart to God, as to our closest friend, sure of being understood.