In chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans, Paul is calling the small, but growing community of Christians in Rome, to come together in the unity of Christ, the only true source of their hope. He was addressing a community of Roman citizens which had converted to this new Christian message. That community was made up of peoples who had come from every corner of that vast empire, including pagans of every kind, Jews and Jewish Christians. He was appealing to them to come together in unity in Christ, despite their vast differences. It seems that many might have been asking, “If Jesus was born a Jew and we are not Jews, how can we hope to be among those he saves?” Paul gives them some challenging and encouraging words, inspired, as we know, by God.
“The reason Christ became the servant of circumcised Jews was not only so that God could faithfully carry out the promises made to the patriarchs, it was also to get the pagans to give glory to God for his mercy…” He then goes on to point out the various places in the Hebrew scriptures that reveal that God’s interest was not only in the Jews, but in the pagans, too, from the very beginning. He offers quotes from the Psalms, from Deuteronomy, and from the prophet Isaiah who writes, “The root of Jesus will appear, rising up to rule the pagans, and in him the pagans will put their hope.” (Is. 11:10)
This is a message that we modern Christians need to hear as well. If we insist on separating ourselves from one another by cult, by denomination, by doctrine, there can be no hope for unity in the one God, through Jesus Christ. When we divide ourselves from one another with human rules, we are not following Christ. We are valuing or disvaluing others by the metrics of our own narrow rules, rather than by the Law of God. Because our human nature is flawed by sin, our human rules must be, naturally, flawed, incomplete, or worse.
Paul began this passage in chapter 15 with these words: “It can only be to God’s glory, then, for you to treat each other in the same way as Christ treated you.” (Rm. 15:7) When our faith becomes a matter of certain man-made rules to be followed, we tend to separate ourselves from others by way of shallow comparisons. This is not Jesus’ way. “All rules must be secondary to charity, indeed, all rules should lead to charity.” (St.Vincent DePaul) If they do not, there is no hope of unity in Christ. Our hope is not in rules, but in God. Paul ends chapter 15 with these words of hope: “May the God of hope bring you such joy and peace in your faith that the power of the Holy Spirit will remove all bounds to hope.” God calls us to be one with one another through him, and him alone. Only the hope that comes from God can free us from all that separates us.