David speaks of the blessedness of those to whom God reckons righteousness
irrespective of 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.’
Is this blessedness, then, pronounced only on the circumcised, or also on the uncircumcised? We say, ‘Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.’ How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the ancestor of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the ancestor of the circumcised who are not only circumcised but who also follow the example of the faith that our ancestor Abraham had before he was circumcised.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith
Word of Hope
I have often heard that this passage from Paul was meant to assure the non-Jewish listeners in Rome that salvation could be theirs. If, like Abraham, they have faith then righteousness will be accorded to them. Circumcision is a symbol of that. But faith came first; then the sign. And there is an implication is that the sign was not needed to prove the existence of the faith. Since circumcision was a sign for Abraham and his descendants, it is good to know that those who are not descendants of Abraham are included in so much as righteousness is reckoned to all through faith first.
But I think there is also a message here for the Jewish listeners; and it is not, perhaps, as bluntly stated. The whole framing of the passage says things to the Jews listening and the non-Jewish Romans might not catch.
Every Jew listening would know that Abraham, though their ancestor, was not a Jew, nor a Hebrew, nor an Israelite. Those three titles were attributed to the descendants of Jacob; whose name was changed by God to Israel. If Paul had meant the Jews alone he would have started with Jacob/Israel. But he doesn’t. He starts with Abraham, father of Isaac and Ishmael. Ishmael is the father of the Ishmaelites. Isaac goes on to be the father if Jacob and Esau. Esau is the father of the Edomites. Jacob becomes the father of Israel.
Also, there is a message in choosing Abraham, and at the same time, referencing the law. The law, which would have been understood to be the law if Moses, came after Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Esau, and Jacob’s twelve sons on whom the tribes of Israel were based. In modern terms, there is no ex post facto situation here.
What then is the message to the Jews who hear this? Acceptance. Acceptance of non-Jewish converts. No one could be rejected. Acceptance based on the law would have excluded all the generations from (and including) Abraham to the generation freed from bondage in Egypt. And even those who came under the law were not renowned for their obedience to it (golden calf anyone?) Inheritance of the world comes through the righteousness of faith; not the law nor circumcision, nor even by lineage.
Loving Creator, how often are we not faithful to You; and yet You accept us back into Your loving presence? Thank You. Guide us always in the path of faith. Love us into righteousness. Be with us in all ways and always.
Order Of Saint Francis and Saint Clare