Second Reading: Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22

A Righteous Person

When do you feel right with God?

Popular Translation

13 God promised Abraham and his sons the land. Abraham didn’t received the promise when he believed because he obeyed God’s Law, but because he trusted God.

16 We need faith to understand God’s promise. He made that promise sure out of his kindness. That promise is not just for those who obey God’s Law. It is for everyone who believes like Abraham, for he is the father of us all. 17 The Bible says:

“I have made you the father of many nations.”

Abraham knew the promise would come true because he trusted God, the One who raises people from the dead and makes new things.

18 Hope against hope, Abraham put his faith in God. Abraham did this so he could become a father of many peoples, just as God said: “You will have many descendants.”

22 So, God made Abraham a friend because of his faith.

Literal Translation

13 For the promise for Abraham and his seed to be inheritors of the world (was) not (made) through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.

16 Because of this (fact), (it is) out of faith, so that the promise (might be) by grace (and) to be (set) in a firm (covenant) for all the seed, not only for (those) from the Law alone, but also for (those) out of the faith of Abraham, who is father of us all, 17 just as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations,” (leaning) upon God (in) whom he had faith, (the One) bring the dead to life and calling the (things) without being into being. 18 Hope against hope, (Abraham) trusted (God) that he would become a “father of many nations” by the (word) having been spoken, “Thus will be your seed”...

22 So, “it was consider for him (an act of) righteousness.”

4:16 “Because of this (fact)” This phrase refers to 4:14-15 which spoke of the futility of mere obedience to the precepts of the Law. A relationship with God is more than just an adherence to his commands; a relationship with God transcends the Law.

4:16-17. This long sentence depends on the word “promise” in the result clause. God’s promise to Abraham was based upon his trust in YHWH, not his blind obedience to his commands. God’s promise, according to Paul, extended beyond those who followed the Law (i.e, the Jews); it also included the Gentiles (i.e., Christians) who honored the God of Abraham. The promise also “leaned upon” God who had the power to create everything ex nihilo and, so, to raise the faithful from the dead.

4:18 “(Abraham)” is the pronoun “who.” Since Abraham was the subject of the discourse, the pronoun “who” referred to the patriarch and is the subject of the sentence.

“Thus will be your seed” Genesis 15:5.

4:22 “it was consider for him (an act of) righteousness.” This verse is from Genesis 15:6. Paul took a sentence with an active construction and made it passive. Literally, God considered Abraham a righteous man, one who had a worthy relationship with his maker. Abraham was righteous based upon his faith.

What makes a person righteous before God? In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul asked that very question. His answer was divisive, for it pitted Jewish Christians against Gentile Christians. Jewish Christians believed Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, but they still obeyed the precepts of the Law. Indeed, the concept of the Messiah only made sense to them in the context of a faith and a lifestyle based upon the Law. Fidelity to the Law made these believers right with God. But, where did this leave Gentile believers? Did they need to convert to Judaism in order to become right with YHWH?

Paul sided with the faithful Gentiles. Obedience to the Law did not make one right with God; it took something more. It took trust in God. To make his point, Paul pointed to the father of Judaism, Abraham, for his insight. Abraham was right with God because he placed his faith in God. Abraham obeyed God, because of his faith; he did not have faith because of his obedience. And, Abraham could only receive the God’s promises of land and descendants based upon his trust. Trust implied an active relationship with the divine that mere obedience can never achieve.

The gospel narratives of St. Joseph revealed another righteous man. He was obedient to the Law when he considered ways to set aside his betrothal to the pregnant Mary. But, he proved his rightness with God when he accepted the word of revelation in faith. Joseph set aside his options under the Law and freely accepted a scandalous set of affairs for the will of God.

What makes us right with God? Abraham and St. Joseph give us examples of righteousness. They placed their trust in God and followed his will into uncharted territories. They did not merely obey God, they placed their fates in his hands. When we follow God on an uncertain road, we, too, will show others we are right with him?

How has God challenged you to set aside your routines and trust in his will?