Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.
As the first theologian of the newly-founded Christian religion, Saint Paul passed over the great king David and the law-giver Moses to prefer Abraham, the "father of faith." Ours would be neither an ethnic religion or a religion of rules. We should be a people of faith.
In his Letter to the Romans (4:3) he cited this verse from Genesis. Saint James, in his letter also cites this passage,
Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called “the friend of God.”Saint John the Evangelist also recalled Abraham in his eighth chapter. Far more important than the nationalism that David might represent, or adherence to laws, customs and traditions as Moses represented, was the fidelity of Abraham. He predated the Law of Moses by many centuries; he knew nothing of civil authority; he was only a homeless merchant/shepherd who relied on God for direction and security.
In his Introduction to Christianity, Cardinal Ratzinger, the Pope Emeritus, reminds us that the Jews received the long-awaited revelation of God's name. Greek philosophers had figured out by reason that there should be a supreme being. But without a personal name they could not relate to that God. They could not pray to or worship God, nor hear his voice. They could not say whether the Supreme Being cares about human beings and our troubles, or even that this Deity wants us to live by a moral code.
This is why the Greco-Roman world admired the Jewish religion, and why many paid close attention to Jewish affairs. They found in the Jewish religion a fulfillment of their philosophical expectations. As the Christian movement spread it easily leaped over the dividing wall to the gentiles to embrace these friends of God. They had only to believe and be baptized.
But we will always face the temptations of reverting to Greek deism, Jewish nationalism, or legal moralism.
- Many of our contemporaries believe there is a "God" but they also believe God has removed himself to a faraway place. He is an absentee father, a deus absconditus.
- Some Christians will insist that God is an American who gave to us a Manifest Destiny to recreate the world in our own middle class, consumer image.
- Other Christians will boast of their adherence to rules and regulation, like the Pharisee in the temple. Life should be so simple!
As a people of faith -- who are justified not by our heritage or our observance of rules but by faith -- we beg God to give us his Spirit and we do everything we can to keep the Spirit. It is a life of discipline and freedom, of joyful confidence and daily insecurity. It is, as my mother used to say, "a great life if you don't weaken."