Brethren, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality. All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2: 10-16 (Epistle of the Second Sunday)
Many times we are intimidated by reading the Epistles of St. Paul because they are theological and not a narrative like the Gospels. The Epistle to the Romans, each time I read a passage, is something I find that I have to digest, almost word by word. Rather than being intimidated by my inability to comprehend, I try to look for little “nuggets”, verses, even single words that speak to me. I also pray before reading Scripture, asking God to bring thoughts to my mind and heart as I meditate and try to understand what I am reading. There are two words from today’s reading that jump out at me–“hearers” and “doers.” Saint Paul tells us that “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” (Romans 2:13) Anyone can read scripture, just as anyone can listen to a sermon. One can read an impressive amount of theology, and expound on it with books and commentaries. But it is not listening to the Word of God that saves us, but DOING what we hear, putting into practice what we hear. It is not the kind of Christian we are on Sunday, when we are in church, that matters, but the kind of Christian we are on Monday and Tuesday and throughout the week. Certainly we must have some comprehension in order to have application, and certainly it is Sunday worship that gives us direction and inspiration for the week, but it is what we do with what we have heard that is pleasing to God.
As we know, the Old Testament Law was very complex. Jesus simplified 613 Old Testament commandments into two—to love God and to love one another. Our salvation comes from how faithfully we do these two things.
Saint Paul concludes today’s reading by talking about writing the law in our hearts. As I reflect on this, I am reminded that it is not the cross that we wear around our necks that makes us a Christian, but the mark of Christ that we carry within our hearts and souls, and how this affects our conscience and in turn our actions.
Which bring me to the final word that I take away from today’s reading—and that is the word “intention.” This word is not part of today’s reading, but when I read that God will judge the secrets of men, it brings this word “intention” to my mind. God knows everything. He knows our actions, He knows our thoughts and thus He knows our intentions. One can have a good intention and have a bad result, just as one can have a bad intention and still come out looking good. The Lord honors what we intend because He knows what is written in our secret hearts (Psalm 51:6). If I cheat on a test and make a brilliant score, the world can admire me but God knows that I have cheated. On the flip side, I can give my greatest effort and not succeed and God will reward the intent. I love the phrase “God crowns effort”. It’s actually something that inspires me. Just give your best and what more can He or anyone else ask?
It’s not what you hear but what you do that counts. And it’s not the result that matters as much as the intention.
The stone had been secured with a seal by the Judeans, and a guard of soldiers was watching Your immaculate Body. You rose on the third day, O Lord and Savior, granting life unto the world. For this reason were the powers of heaven crying out to You, O Life-give: Glory to Your Resurrection, O Christ; glory to Your Kingdom; glory to Your dispensation, only One who loves mankind. (Apolytikion of the First Tone of Sunday Orthros, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Hear, do, have good intentions, and God will be honored. In turn, He will honor you!