Paul reflects on how he was raised to honor the letter of the Jewish law as best he could. For Paul, being a member of the tribe of Benjamin is an honor; they have a reputation for being strong leaders and good warriors. He hails from Tarsus, a large trading post, so he is familiar with many different cultures. He comes from a devout Pharisee family, so he is well-versed in the law. In this passage, he describes how he had lived the letter of the law as closely as he could, yet still it was not enough. He describes that all of his accomplishments, reputation, and law-keeping paled in comparison to the joy of knowing Christ. Paul states that he is now “found” in Christ and that his righteousness comes from faith in Christ.
We often hold ourselves to high standards that can feel like a never-ending checklist we must maintain to feel worthy: go to church, read the Bible, pray frequently, volunteer with the youth group, sign up for service projects, make a casserole for the potluck, listen to a spiritual podcast, read the book everyone keeps recommending, quit gossiping and complaining, don’t forget to order altar flowers this year. When we get home, we can be constantly pressured to take care of our families and pets, do what we need to do to stay healthy, be a good employee, be a good friend, and somehow take time to do self-care as well. If only we could be . . . perfect!
Paul knows this struggle. He tells us that even if we did get it all right every time, it still wouldn’t be enough. That’s okay. Through the grace of God, we can find ourselves in Christ. Through the empowerment of the Spirit, we can grow in the practice of letting go, of learning self-compassion, of knowing that everything we are and everything we have—even our checklists—belong to God. We can rest knowing that God’s grace is sufficient.
Loving God, thank you for your grace. Help me to understand how to let go and rest in your presence and power. Amen.
A common theme this week is the danger of self-absorption. When we are young, we may struggle to understand the importance of rules because we think that our individual freedom is the highest good. God gives the Israelites commandments to guide their relationships with God and others. These laws will help them thrive because God knows what is best for us. The psalmist understands this: The laws of the Lord are good and sweet. Self-absorption might also lead to pride. Paul shows that a true understanding of the gospel means laying aside our rights in the knowledge that God will reward us. In a parable about the rejection of the prophets and Jesus, servants seek to seize a vineyard for themselves, unwisely ignoring that the owner will eventually reclaim what is his.
Read Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. Recall your earliest experiences with the Ten Commandments. How do they continue to shape your understanding of God’s expectations?
Read Psalm 19. How does the natural world call you to follow God?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. Whom do you emulate? What would it mean for you to emulate Christ in life and in death?
Read Matthew 21:33-46. When have you participated in or witnessed the rejection of one who could be God in disguise? How might things be different if you had recognized that person as a potential cornerstone of your community?
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