Personal Holiness and Corporate Justice

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 — Week of Lent 2 (Year One)

George Herbert, Priest, 1633

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 952)

Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

Jeremiah 3:6-18

Romans 1:28 – 2:11

John 5:1-18

Paul says today that there is a single ethic for all people. He criticizes the presumption of religious people who claim to occupy a place of privilege because of their faith and then do the very things they condemn in others.

The list of sins that Paul describes in this passage mainly describes behavior that destroys meaningful relationships in families and in society: “wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice,… envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness,” gossip, slander, God-hating, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, inventing evil, rebellion toward parents, foolishness, faithlessness, being heartless and ruthless. Rough list. Paul says he sees evidence of such behavior among the religious as well as the non-religious and pagan.

The prophet Jeremiah is also occupied with a critique of the religious. He uses the metaphor of adultery. He is writing at the turn of the sixth century BCE. Two hundred years ago the faithless wife Israel betrayed her husband God and was cast off, invaded, defeated and sent into exile by Assyria. Jeremiah now tells the surviving southern kingdom of Judah that she has learned nothing from Israel’s failure, and Judah is now behaving in a similar, adulterous manner. To the first wife Israel, Jeremiah speaks a word of hope and reconciliation. He is prophesying judgment upon the second wife Judah.

The failures that the prophets like Jeremiah and the apostle Paul articulate have two dimensions. There is the dimension of personal faithfulness and holiness-of-life which is the goal of each believer. There is also the dimension of social justice and compassion which is the goal of corporate life. In both dimensions they commend special attention and care on behalf of the poor and vulnerable. The Biblical writers also note with approval acts of justice and compassion by those who are outside the circle of faith.

We are all called to personal holiness and to corporate justice. That calling is a single ethic, for believer and non-believer alike. We don’t get a pass just because we are Christians. God offers “glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.” (Later Paul will distinguish between ethical calling and salvation, which is a gift freely given, not dependent upon ethical works. In Paul’s theology, the gift of salvation motivates spontaneous acts of goodness.)

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