daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Sunday, 27th Sunday of the Year, October 06, 2013
Hab. 1:2-3, 2:2-4, Ps. 94, 2 Tim. 1:6-8, 13-14, Luke 17:5-10

"The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!' And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, "Be routed up, and be planted in the sea," and it would obey you'" (Luke 17:5-6).

This text is about the strength of faith. In this year of faith it is good to ask what faith is. Faith unlocks the gospel for us and gives us access to the power of God that is in the gospel for our salvation. What exactly is this power of God for salvation that is contained in the gospel? It is the righteousness of God, revealed to us by faith, for the righteous man lives by faith.

All this, St. Paul tells us in Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live'" (Rom. 1:16-17).

This "power of God for salvation" is the gospel, the preaching about Jesus Christ. In this power is the righteousness of God. Here the "righteousness of God" means not God's own personal righteousness, nor his vindictive, punishing righteousness, whereby he punishes us for our sins, but rather his righteousness as a gift to us, whereby he saves us. It is his justifying righteousness, whereby God makes us righteous, justifying us. The rest of the epistle to the Romans is about this justifying righteousness of God. St. Paul only introduces this topic here, but the rest of his letter makes it clear that this is the sense in which he is using the phrase "the righteousness of God" here.

It is through faith that we receive this "righteousness of God" that makes us righteous. It is this gift of the justifying "righteousness of God" that is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe. This power is in the gospel, the preached message of salvation in Jesus Christ. Faith is what unlocks this proclamation, this gospel, this good news, so that through our faith we can be made righteous with the gift of God's own justifying righteousness, and henceforth live by faith.

St. Paul says all this very briefly and concisely in Romans 1:16-17 (quoted above), but in the rest of the epistle he makes clear the saving meaning of the expression, "the righteousness of God," namely that it is the free gift of God for salvation given in Jesus Christ to all who believe in him. Faith, then, is what gives us access to experience God's salvation in Jesus Christ.

Speaking about many of the Jews of his own time who rejected the saving gospel about Jesus Christ and the free gift of God's justifying righteousness now available through faith in the gospel, St. Paul says, "Being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Rom. 10:3). That is, these Jews who rejected the gospel were rather trying to establish their own righteousness through their own works according to the law. They tried to justify themselves, basing themselves on their own works, and ignored the gift of the justifying righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, by which they could have been saved. "Seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Rom. 10:3) that they could have received as a free gift through faith. This gift would have made them righteous, justified them. Faith, then, is the key that unlocks this gift of salvation for us.

This is the heart of the gospel, the message of salvation through faith in Christ that we are to proclaim. This is the main subject matter of evangelization and of the new evangelization. This is the saving meaning of faith that we are to shout from the housetops. St. Paul says, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom. 10:9-10 NKJV).

We receive the gift of salvation, which St. Paul calls "the righteousness of God" (Rom. 1:17), through our faith, with the result that we are justified, that is, made righteous, not by our own righteousness according to our works in conformity with the law, but by the gift of the justifying righteousness of God himself.

St. Paul does not want his own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of God that comes not through our works, but through faith. He says that he wants to be in Christ, "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil. 3:9). He does not want his own righteousness, based on his own works, but the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Christ. We see clearly that the righteousness of God here is his justifying righteousness through which God makes us righteous, not through our works, but through the work of Christ on the cross, where he satisfied the penal justice of God for those who believe in him, for there he justly suffered our punishment due to us for our sins. He suffered it in our place and instead of us on the cross.

That Christ suffered our punishment for our sins for us, with the result that we become righteous in Christ, St. Paul declared, saying, "For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). God put our sins on Christ, and he bore them, suffering their just punishment on the cross to save us from this punishment and expiate our sins, thus propitiating God's justice on our behalf. And all this was at the initiative of God the Father. Here St. Paul says that we "become the righteousness of God" in Christ. That is, God gives us his own righteousness, making us righteous as he himself is righteous. It is much better to shine with God's righteousness than with our own. And this righteousness of God we obtain through the death of Christ on the cross for our sins by means of our faith in him.

During this year of faith and of the new evangelization it is important that we understand well and clearly the essence of faith, of the gospel, of evangelization, of the power of God for our salvation, which is the gospel, and God's justifying righteousness, which is the power contained in the gospel that makes us righteous through our faith. This justifying and saving righteousness of God is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe.

Preaching the gospel is proclaiming this power of God unto salvation for all who believe in Christ. The power that we proclaim is the justifying righteousness of God. The gift of this saving power is revealed in the gospel for all who believe. He who believes will be made righteous through the righteousness of God. He will be made righteous through his faith, not through his own works.

This message gives us much hope and joy of spirit, because it removes from us the burden of guilt for our sins. The forgiveness of our sins is a free gift that God gives us through our faith in the saving work of his Son on the cross. This gift is the liberation of our spirit, filling us with the righteousness of God and the joy of the Holy Spirit.


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