Memorial of Saint Justin, Martyr

Lectionary: 355

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel, for which I was appointed preacher and Apostle and teacher.

This is another of Saint Paul’s famously endless sentences; this one from his first letter to his protege, Saint Timothy. We preachers are given to that sort of thing, especially when we take up writing. The good ideas just keep on coming, one after another, piling on top of each other, until we run out of paper or the ink runs dry. Every inspiration is valuable but some purists could wish Saint Paul would at least adhere to common sentence structure.

But, like good Christian congregations of all time, we forgive the excitable preacher, bear with his exuberance, and find something to ponder in his words.

It helps to imagine Saint Paul writing this letter while incarcerated. Someone, not the authorities but a friend, provided him with pen and ink and he was allowed to write. This man of constant movement and frequent adventure must have suffered the indignity and confinement of prison with great reluctance. If he endured it well it's because he knew he was doing God's work and that it had brought him to this pass. His confinement resembled the futility of Jesus' passion and was mysteriously, powerfully necessary!

So he writes with exuberant joy despite his discomfort, and his mind runs just as free as his body is imprisoned.

You and I might wonder if our works are good enough to earn salvation. Confinement, I speak for myself, is out of the question. I'm not good at illness or idleness and a well-earned vacation is a challenge.

But Paul can endure his idleness in prison because he does not suffer the notion that one is saved by his works. It is "not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace...."

That thought alone is delightful; it is a banquet for the mind and heart. One could feast on it all day long and into the night; one could share it companions with all the songs and dances and ecstatic expressions that go with an evening of pleasure. God is so good! God is so gracious!

Saint Paul lives in the "Gospel, for which I was appointed preacher and Apostle and teacher."

Twenty centuries later, the Spirit of Jesus is no less reassuring, satisfying and exciting than he was for Paul in his confinement. Each day as we pause to reflect, we take nourishment from the same table.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.