Embrace What God is Doing (Rom 5:1-2)
To appreciate the revolutionary thrust of Paul’s message, I think of the story of a young man whose inner voice kept repeating, “You’re not good enough.” Responding to this, he felt he had to keep demonstrating that he had value, that he was somebody. And no matter how perfectly he performed, there was always that prod to do more. If he didn’t, he feared he’d lose people’s esteem — or his deepest fear, he’d lose their love.
But in time he met someone who came to admire and love him. She began to notice his inability to relax, his need to keep producing. One day she took him aside and said, “You don’t have to keep doing things for me. You’re good even before you walk into the room. I’d think you’re wonderful even if you did nothing.” As you can imagine, he found this very hard to take in. “There’s something loveable about me even if I don’t perform? Doesn’t make sense.” But over the years, in little snippets, he came to let her words lodge more in his heart. And what a difference that came to make – I’m loveable even before I do anything!
Can you hear Paul straining to give his hearers this same message about how it is between us and God? “You’re justified (made right) even before you come into the courtroom. You’re redeemed (brought back home) even before you do anything to deserve that. All these things you say you’re doing for God, fasting, helping the poor, going to Temple, are good. But they are not what makes you count in God’s eyes, not what makes you loveable to God. You are good and loveable and accepted even before you do them.” As he proclaims to the Romans, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace.” (Rom 5: 1-2).
The bottom line? We don’t have to keep proving our worth and loveableness because we know that in Jesus we are loved way before we lift a finger. If we do things in response to God’s love, that’s praiseworthy because we recognize all these good works for what they are: a response. But our works are not a payment, a bargaining chip, a way to prove ourselves before God.
For sure, this truth is easier to say with our mouths than to believe down in our hearts – I’m loved even before I do anything. For most, it takes a lifetime of sinking in. But isn’t that just the saving truth Vincent attempts to drive into the hearts of the people of his day, especially the ones devalued as outcasts and less than worthy. You are loved — and loved from the beginning.
A writer once laid down the question, “what’s the best thing you can do for God?”
St. Paul would applaud his memorable answer, “The best thing you can do for God — is embrace what God is doing for you.”