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The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The gospel begins as follows, Matthew 13:44

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

"Have you understood all this?" They said to him, “Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Alright, that is the end of the Gospel. Let’s walk through each of those together. You can see here that Jesus gives three parables of the kingdom, three last parables of the kingdom, that are a little bit shorter, and he ends with this final statement about scribes who are trained for the kingdom of God. So what's going on in these verses? Well the first thing I want to say is, as with some of the other parables, these first two that we have for this Sunday have a bit of a twist to them that helps us to get into an understanding of what the mystery exactly is that Jesus is trying to reveal. In other words, you have to look for the surprising element in the parable, the riddle, and that will give you an insight into the mystery of the kingdom. So although the parables are very familiar, there are parts of them that are a bit strange if you stop and reflect for a second, or you try to put yourself in the shoes of Jesus's first century Jewish audience.

So with regard to the first parable, the treasure hidden in the field, we can see already that there's an unexpected element here. Think about this for a second. If you are walking along and you found a treasure hidden in a field, what would you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to keep the treasure I would dig it up and take it with me. But that is not what the person does here. It says here that he found the treasure in a field and he covered it up and then in joy he goes and sells all that he has to buy that field. That’s a weird response to finding a hidden treasure. Usually people would just take the treasure and then go and use it and sell it, right!? And become rich or use it to buy what they want. This guy finds the treasure, apparently buries it again, covers it up and he goes and buys the land on which the treasure is hidden. What's going on here? What is Jesus trying to say? Well I think here that the basic message of the parable again lies in the twist. Namely this, you cannot steal the kingdom of God. You have to give everything in order to obtain it. So he can't unjustly obtain the kingdom, he has to go sell all that he has and buy the field where the treasure is hidden. So this tells us both that the kingdom is a hidden reality, it is not lying about on the ground, it is something that is buried, that's hidden, but it's also something that can't be stolen. We have to give all that we have if we are going to possess it. And yet at the same time, even though it is hidden, it's valuable, it's precious, it's actually going to make us spiritually rich with the rewards of everlasting life. So that is the first parable, a great parable, especially if you love — like I do — novels like Treasure Island. This idea of hunting for lost treasure, the quest for lost gold, it is something that you find in all different human cultures, the idea of seeking for a treasure. So Jesus takes that common theme of lost treasure, of hidden gold, and he uses it to show us that the kingdom is precious, the kingdom is valuable, that it's worth everything. It is worth losing everything.

A similar image is found in the second parable here, which is commonly known as the pearl of great price. So it says that the kingdom is like a merchant who is in search of fine pearls, and he, when he finds this one pearl of great value, goes and sells all that he has and buys that pearl. Now again, where's the twist in here? Well on the one hand, it seems like it might be just a common story about someone looking for pearls. The twist though is in the way the man responds. If you found — again put yourself in his place — this one pearl, this beautiful great pearl of great price, would you sell everything in order to obtain it? In other words, would you sell your house, sell your clothes, all of your possessions in order to obtain the pearl? That is going to be a problem because can you eat a pearl? Can you drink a pearl? Can you dwell in a pearl? Will it give you shelter? No! In other words, the man overreacts, in a sense, to the discovery of the great pearl. He gives away everything for the sake of this one thing, this pearl of great price. It seems like he is, in a sense, crazy. If you found someone who was walking along in tattered clothes and didn’t own anything and you asked him “are you okay? Is everything alright?” And he answered “Oh I have my pearl and that is all I need,” you would think that that person was a little crazy, a little mentally unstable. And so this merchant here who gives away everything for the sake of this one pearl is, in a sense, doing what Jesus is calling his disciples to do. He's calling them to be foolish in the eyes of the world. He is calling them to live a radical life of discipleship, where nothing else matters except the one thing. And that one thing, that pearl of great price, is the kingdom of God, it is the kingdom of heaven. 

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Now I know, I know, for a lot of Catholic viewers and listeners—based on my years in the classroom—that when Catholics hear the word predestination these days, a lot of them think, “Oh, well, wait...predestination is something that other Christians believe, like Calvinists in particular”...because John Calvin, one of the Protestant reformers, was very famous for his doctrine of what is called double predestination. Namely, that God foreordains, irrespective of human will, some people to go to Heaven and some people to go to Hell...irrespective of their decision for or against Him or their choice to accept or reject His grace. And so many Catholics kind of are...I’m going to say repulsed, but that’s fairly a strong word. They are repulsed by the idea of predestination, because they think of it primarily in a Calvinistic mode—idea of the double predestination, where God foreordains for people to be damned, irrespective of their response to grace.

Although it’s true that Calvin made that view of predestination very famous and widespread, it is not, in fact, a biblical doctrine of predestination. It’s a misinterpretation of the biblical teaching of predestination. But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, right? The reason the Catholic Church teaches and affirms predestination—this is important—is because the Bible teaches and affirms predestination, and not just the Bible in general, but Paul in particular. Romans 8 is the locus classicus,the kind of classic place where Scripture explicitly affirms the idea that God decides in advance. He predestined the elect, the chosen:

...to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.

Okay, as soon as I say that, you might be thinking, “Well, hold on. What about the whole issue of free will?” And of course, free will is also a biblical teaching that the Catholic Church affirms. I’ll just give you one passage if you want to look this up. This isn’t from Paul, but it’s from a book that we can make a really strong case that Paul was familiar with, and that’s the book of Sirach. There are several allusions to and very close parallels between Paul’s writings and the book of Sirach—which is only in the Catholic Old Testament, by the way. But it’s still an important writing, even for non Catholic Christians. So Sirach 15,:14, it says:

It was he who created man in the beginning,
     and he left him in the power of his own inclination.
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
     and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. (Sirach 15:14-15)

So Sirach is very clear that God makes man free. He has the power of his own inclination. And if he chooses, he can keep the commandments through his own free choice. So what we have in Scripture is a tension between the doctrine of God’s divine foreknowledge and providence—it’s predestination, His foreordaining everything that’s going to happen—and the affirmation of the truly free will of each human person. And that tension between those two is just part of biblical revelation. Both truths are affirmed by Scripture and would have been affirmed by Paul.

In fact, I don’t have the quote with me off the top my head, but there’s a quotation in the Mishnah. It’s a saying of the rabbis. And remember Paul is a member of the Pharisees, so he grows up as a Pharisee and he learns the doctrine of the Pharisees. And one of the sayings of the rabbis in the Mishnah—I’m paraphrasing but basically—it says that all things are foreordained and free will is given. Okay, so do you believe in providence or do you believe in free will? Do you believe in predestination or free will? And the Pharisee would say, “All things are foreordained and free will is given.” Well, how do you reconcile that? And they would say, “All things are foreordained and free will is given.”

In other words, there’s an affirmation of the two, because both are affirmed by Scripture—even though, obviously, it’s a mystery as to how exactly they correspond. And we’ll see what the Church has to say about that in the Catechism in just a minute, but for now, I’m just giving you the context for Paul’s statements here.

So it’s not unsurprising that Paul, as a former Pharisee, would speak about predestination, about God not only knowing about what is going to happen in advance, but also in some sense determining what’s going to happen in advance. Having the whole map of human history planned and plotted, the whole drama of salvation—from the very beginning to the very end—is already not only known to God but determined by God...that He’s like an author who writes the story...and as we’ll see in a second, the Catechism is going to say: and He writes into that story the free agency of every human being. That’s how powerful He is. He can both determine everything that’s going to happen and include in it the free choice of every human being. So it’s both/and, not an either/or. It’s both/and. Both are true.

In any case, we’re kind of getting into the weeds here, but I just wanted you to be a little familiar about the background of Paul’s statements here. When he talks about predestination, that’s a pretty standard Pharisaic doctrine—which, by the way, is different than other Jewish sects in the first century AD. So there were other groups like the Essenes or the Sadducees, that would not have agreed with the Pharisaic understanding of free will and predestination. Some groups would have been more deterministic—in other words, God decides everything, and we don’t have freedom. So that might be one view you would find on the ground there.

In any case, okay, so Paul here is affirming 1) divine foreknowledge; 2) predestination; and then 3) Well, what’s the object of predestination? What is he talking about? What does that mean? What does God foreordain? What does He predetermine? In this case, it’s salvation. So He says:

...those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

So notice, there’s a string of verbs there that Paul’s using. First, predestination—God’s decision from all eternity, His choosing in advance, making a determination of events. Second, vocation. Then God calls “those whom he foreknew.” Kaleō is the Greek word for “to call.” We get the language of vocation from that. So what’s my vocation? Well, in this case, Paul’s talking about the vocation of salvation. So: predestination, vocation.

...those whom he called he also justified…

There's your third verb, justification, which we could do like multiple videos on this. There’s a huge debate about this going back to the Protestant Reformation, at least. Actually, it goes back even further than. It goes back to Origen, but that’s a whole other story. Justification can mean both to declare righteous—like in a courtroom, a person is declared vindicated, righteous. But it can also mean to make righteous. I’ll leave open for just a minute what that is, but in this case, Paul’s doctrine of justification, those who believe in Christ are:

...justified by faith apart from works of law.

And then the final verb:

...and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Glorification for Paul. He tends to use this term to speak about the resurrection of the dead. So that’s when we will share in the glory of Christ. So what Paul is doing here is he’s going all the way from predestination, which would be at the beginning or even before the beginning of time, to glorification, which would be at the end of time. It’s kind of stringing together the whole story of salvation:

...those whom he predestined he also called…

..to faith in Baptism.

….those whom he called he also justified…

...in Baptism and faith. That’s when He makes us righteous. He gives us the gift of salvation. And then:

...those whom he justified he also glorified.

...at the resurrection of the dead. Alright, so that’s how this is all stringing together. Now, if you go back for a second to Paul’s statement about being…

...conformed to the image of his Son…

This is a really crucial statement on Paul’s part. And I don’t want it to be overshadowed by the fascinating topic of predestination and free will. The point of predestination for Paul is that:

...those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…

And the Greek word here is sym-morphos. Sym means “with” and morphos—we speak about morphology in English...although maybe not everyone speaks about that so much anymore. But metamorphosis is to be changed, and that’s what Paul is describing: to be changed into the image of His Son.

And the Greek word there for image, eikón, we get the word “icon.” So here you see where Paul’s describing, what is salvation about, according to Paul? What is justification about? What is predestination about? What’s it all aiming toward? It’s not just about being declared innocent or forgiven by God. There was a famous line in Luther’s theology of salvation, “Simul justus et peccator” —at the same time righteous and a sinner. And there’s a debate about how to interpret that, like there is about everything. But many Christians will take that—and have taken that—as a kind of shorthand way of describing the fact that when we are justified by faith, God declares us to be righteous...but He doesn’t actually make us righteous. We remain wicked. We remain sinners. We remain innocent, but the innocence and righteousness of Christ, in a sense, is extrinsic to us. It covers us, but it doesn’t actually change us from within.

And that phrase “at the same time righteous and a sinner” means we’ve been declared righteous, but we’re not actually righteous. We’re still sinners interiorly, kind of just exteriorly being covered with the righteousness of Jesus.

That's not how Paul is describing justification in Romans 8, because here, in the very context of talking about being justified, he also talks about being sym-morphos—being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Paul doesn’t believe in just declaration, although he does think that we are declared righteous. He also believes in transformation, a real change taking place in the person who has faith and who has been baptized through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the believer. So there’s an interior change because of the gift of the Holy Spirit that really makes a person not just righteous but also into a saint—hagios, a holy one like Paul will describe throughout his letters when he refers to believers as saints.

So the believer becomes a little icon of Jesus who in this sense—no, not in a sense. As Paul himself says in Galatians:

...it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…

And that’s a real life of Christ within the believer here. That’s what predestination is all about. In fact, maybe I’ll give you this quote in just a minute. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is really clear that God predestines no one to hell, but He does predestine to salvation. This is His plan. That’s His plan of foreknowledge...is to give the graces that are necessary for us to be conformed to the image of the Son. And that’s what Paul is getting at here. So there’s a real change that takes place, at least according to Romans, which is Paul’s classic statement about the nature of salvation and the Good News of salvation. So this is a very, very crucial verse.

In fact, if you want to dig into this a little more, I co-authored a book with Michael Barber and John Kincaid—two good friends and colleagues of mine—called Paul, A New Covenant Jew. And in a chapter of that book, we have a whole chapter on justification, which...I think the subtitle of the chapter is “Conformed to an image of the Son.” And it’s all about the real transforming power of justification according to the theology of Paul. And John Kincaid, one of the authors of the book, coined a phrase that’s very helpful. He talks about “cardiac righteousness”—in other words, that the righteousness of those who are believers in Christ is not extrinsic. It’s not just something external. It’s actually interior, because God, through the Holy Spirit, changes the heart—the cardia. There’s an indwelling righteousness that’s part—in fact, not just part of—the essence of what salvation is all about in the New Covenant...that God takes out our hearts of stone, as Ezekial says, and gives us hearts of flesh. He puts a new spirit to dwell within the believer so that the believer can freely keep the commandments with the assistance of God’s grace and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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Gospel, First Reading & Psalm


Second Reading


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GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

The gospel begins as follows, Matthew 13:44

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.

"Have you understood all this?" They said to him, “Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

Alright, that is the end of the Gospel. Let’s walk through each of those together. You can see here that Jesus gives three parables of the kingdom, three last parables of the kingdom, that are a little bit shorter, and he ends with this final statement about scribes who are trained for the kingdom of God. So what's going on in these verses? Well the first thing I want to say is, as with some of the other parables, these first two that we have for this Sunday have a bit of a twist to them that helps us to get into an understanding of what the mystery exactly is that Jesus is trying to reveal. In other words, you have to look for the surprising element in the parable, the riddle, and that will give you an insight into the mystery of the kingdom. So although the parables are very familiar, there are parts of them that are a bit strange if you stop and reflect for a second, or you try to put yourself in the shoes of Jesus's first century Jewish audience.

So with regard to the first parable, the treasure hidden in the field, we can see already that there's an unexpected element here. Think about this for a second. If you are walking along and you found a treasure hidden in a field, what would you do? Well, I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to keep the treasure I would dig it up and take it with me. But that is not what the person does here. It says here that he found the treasure in a field and he covered it up and then in joy he goes and sells all that he has to buy that field. That’s a weird response to finding a hidden treasure. Usually people would just take the treasure and then go and use it and sell it, right!? And become rich or use it to buy what they want. This guy finds the treasure, apparently buries it again, covers it up and he goes and buys the land on which the treasure is hidden. What's going on here? What is Jesus trying to say? Well I think here that the basic message of the parable again lies in the twist. Namely this, you cannot steal the kingdom of God. You have to give everything in order to obtain it. So he can't unjustly obtain the kingdom, he has to go sell all that he has and buy the field where the treasure is hidden. So this tells us both that the kingdom is a hidden reality, it is not lying about on the ground, it is something that is buried, that's hidden, but it's also something that can't be stolen. We have to give all that we have if we are going to possess it. And yet at the same time, even though it is hidden, it's valuable, it's precious, it's actually going to make us spiritually rich with the rewards of everlasting life. So that is the first parable, a great parable, especially if you love — like I do — novels like Treasure Island. This idea of hunting for lost treasure, the quest for lost gold, it is something that you find in all different human cultures, the idea of seeking for a treasure. So Jesus takes that common theme of lost treasure, of hidden gold, and he uses it to show us that the kingdom is precious, the kingdom is valuable, that it's worth everything. It is worth losing everything.

A similar image is found in the second parable here, which is commonly known as the pearl of great price. So it says that the kingdom is like a merchant who is in search of fine pearls, and he, when he finds this one pearl of great value, goes and sells all that he has and buys that pearl. Now again, where's the twist in here? Well on the one hand, it seems like it might be just a common story about someone looking for pearls. The twist though is in the way the man responds. If you found — again put yourself in his place — this one pearl, this beautiful great pearl of great price, would you sell everything in order to obtain it? In other words, would you sell your house, sell your clothes, all of your possessions in order to obtain the pearl? That is going to be a problem because can you eat a pearl? Can you drink a pearl? Can you dwell in a pearl? Will it give you shelter? No! In other words, the man overreacts, in a sense, to the discovery of the great pearl. He gives away everything for the sake of this one thing, this pearl of great price. It seems like he is, in a sense, crazy. If you found someone who was walking along in tattered clothes and didn’t own anything and you asked him “are you okay? Is everything alright?” And he answered “Oh I have my pearl and that is all I need,” you would think that that person was a little crazy, a little mentally unstable. And so this merchant here who gives away everything for the sake of this one pearl is, in a sense, doing what Jesus is calling his disciples to do. He's calling them to be foolish in the eyes of the world. He is calling them to live a radical life of discipleship, where nothing else matters except the one thing. And that one thing, that pearl of great price, is the kingdom of God, it is the kingdom of heaven. 

SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):

Now I know, I know, for a lot of Catholic viewers and listeners—based on my years in the classroom—that when Catholics hear the word predestination these days, a lot of them think, “Oh, well, wait...predestination is something that other Christians believe, like Calvinists in particular”...because John Calvin, one of the Protestant reformers, was very famous for his doctrine of what is called double predestination. Namely, that God foreordains, irrespective of human will, some people to go to Heaven and some people to go to Hell...irrespective of their decision for or against Him or their choice to accept or reject His grace. And so many Catholics kind of are...I’m going to say repulsed, but that’s fairly a strong word. They are repulsed by the idea of predestination, because they think of it primarily in a Calvinistic mode—idea of the double predestination, where God foreordains for people to be damned, irrespective of their response to grace.

Although it’s true that Calvin made that view of predestination very famous and widespread, it is not, in fact, a biblical doctrine of predestination. It’s a misinterpretation of the biblical teaching of predestination. But we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water, right? The reason the Catholic Church teaches and affirms predestination—this is important—is because the Bible teaches and affirms predestination, and not just the Bible in general, but Paul in particular. Romans 8 is the locus classicus,the kind of classic place where Scripture explicitly affirms the idea that God decides in advance. He predestined the elect, the chosen:

...to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.

Okay, as soon as I say that, you might be thinking, “Well, hold on. What about the whole issue of free will?” And of course, free will is also a biblical teaching that the Catholic Church affirms. I’ll just give you one passage if you want to look this up. This isn’t from Paul, but it’s from a book that we can make a really strong case that Paul was familiar with, and that’s the book of Sirach. There are several allusions to and very close parallels between Paul’s writings and the book of Sirach—which is only in the Catholic Old Testament, by the way. But it’s still an important writing, even for non Catholic Christians. So Sirach 15,:14, it says:

It was he who created man in the beginning,
     and he left him in the power of his own inclination.
If you will, you can keep the commandments,
     and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. (Sirach 15:14-15)

So Sirach is very clear that God makes man free. He has the power of his own inclination. And if he chooses, he can keep the commandments through his own free choice. So what we have in Scripture is a tension between the doctrine of God’s divine foreknowledge and providence—it’s predestination, His foreordaining everything that’s going to happen—and the affirmation of the truly free will of each human person. And that tension between those two is just part of biblical revelation. Both truths are affirmed by Scripture and would have been affirmed by Paul.

In fact, I don’t have the quote with me off the top my head, but there’s a quotation in the Mishnah. It’s a saying of the rabbis. And remember Paul is a member of the Pharisees, so he grows up as a Pharisee and he learns the doctrine of the Pharisees. And one of the sayings of the rabbis in the Mishnah—I’m paraphrasing but basically—it says that all things are foreordained and free will is given. Okay, so do you believe in providence or do you believe in free will? Do you believe in predestination or free will? And the Pharisee would say, “All things are foreordained and free will is given.” Well, how do you reconcile that? And they would say, “All things are foreordained and free will is given.”

In other words, there’s an affirmation of the two, because both are affirmed by Scripture—even though, obviously, it’s a mystery as to how exactly they correspond. And we’ll see what the Church has to say about that in the Catechism in just a minute, but for now, I’m just giving you the context for Paul’s statements here.

So it’s not unsurprising that Paul, as a former Pharisee, would speak about predestination, about God not only knowing about what is going to happen in advance, but also in some sense determining what’s going to happen in advance. Having the whole map of human history planned and plotted, the whole drama of salvation—from the very beginning to the very end—is already not only known to God but determined by God...that He’s like an author who writes the story...and as we’ll see in a second, the Catechism is going to say: and He writes into that story the free agency of every human being. That’s how powerful He is. He can both determine everything that’s going to happen and include in it the free choice of every human being. So it’s both/and, not an either/or. It’s both/and. Both are true.

In any case, we’re kind of getting into the weeds here, but I just wanted you to be a little familiar about the background of Paul’s statements here. When he talks about predestination, that’s a pretty standard Pharisaic doctrine—which, by the way, is different than other Jewish sects in the first century AD. So there were other groups like the Essenes or the Sadducees, that would not have agreed with the Pharisaic understanding of free will and predestination. Some groups would have been more deterministic—in other words, God decides everything, and we don’t have freedom. So that might be one view you would find on the ground there.

In any case, okay, so Paul here is affirming 1) divine foreknowledge; 2) predestination; and then 3) Well, what’s the object of predestination? What is he talking about? What does that mean? What does God foreordain? What does He predetermine? In this case, it’s salvation. So He says:

...those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

So notice, there’s a string of verbs there that Paul’s using. First, predestination—God’s decision from all eternity, His choosing in advance, making a determination of events. Second, vocation. Then God calls “those whom he foreknew.” Kaleō is the Greek word for “to call.” We get the language of vocation from that. So what’s my vocation? Well, in this case, Paul’s talking about the vocation of salvation. So: predestination, vocation.

...those whom he called he also justified…

There's your third verb, justification, which we could do like multiple videos on this. There’s a huge debate about this going back to the Protestant Reformation, at least. Actually, it goes back even further than. It goes back to Origen, but that’s a whole other story. Justification can mean both to declare righteous—like in a courtroom, a person is declared vindicated, righteous. But it can also mean to make righteous. I’ll leave open for just a minute what that is, but in this case, Paul’s doctrine of justification, those who believe in Christ are:

...justified by faith apart from works of law.

And then the final verb:

...and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Glorification for Paul. He tends to use this term to speak about the resurrection of the dead. So that’s when we will share in the glory of Christ. So what Paul is doing here is he’s going all the way from predestination, which would be at the beginning or even before the beginning of time, to glorification, which would be at the end of time. It’s kind of stringing together the whole story of salvation:

...those whom he predestined he also called…

..to faith in Baptism.

….those whom he called he also justified…

...in Baptism and faith. That’s when He makes us righteous. He gives us the gift of salvation. And then:

...those whom he justified he also glorified.

...at the resurrection of the dead. Alright, so that’s how this is all stringing together. Now, if you go back for a second to Paul’s statement about being…

...conformed to the image of his Son…

This is a really crucial statement on Paul’s part. And I don’t want it to be overshadowed by the fascinating topic of predestination and free will. The point of predestination for Paul is that:

...those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…

And the Greek word here is sym-morphos. Sym means “with” and morphos—we speak about morphology in English...although maybe not everyone speaks about that so much anymore. But metamorphosis is to be changed, and that’s what Paul is describing: to be changed into the image of His Son.

And the Greek word there for image, eikón, we get the word “icon.” So here you see where Paul’s describing, what is salvation about, according to Paul? What is justification about? What is predestination about? What’s it all aiming toward? It’s not just about being declared innocent or forgiven by God. There was a famous line in Luther’s theology of salvation, “Simul justus et peccator” —at the same time righteous and a sinner. And there’s a debate about how to interpret that, like there is about everything. But many Christians will take that—and have taken that—as a kind of shorthand way of describing the fact that when we are justified by faith, God declares us to be righteous...but He doesn’t actually make us righteous. We remain wicked. We remain sinners. We remain innocent, but the innocence and righteousness of Christ, in a sense, is extrinsic to us. It covers us, but it doesn’t actually change us from within.

And that phrase “at the same time righteous and a sinner” means we’ve been declared righteous, but we’re not actually righteous. We’re still sinners interiorly, kind of just exteriorly being covered with the righteousness of Jesus.

That's not how Paul is describing justification in Romans 8, because here, in the very context of talking about being justified, he also talks about being sym-morphos—being conformed to the likeness of Christ. Paul doesn’t believe in just declaration, although he does think that we are declared righteous. He also believes in transformation, a real change taking place in the person who has faith and who has been baptized through the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within the believer. So there’s an interior change because of the gift of the Holy Spirit that really makes a person not just righteous but also into a saint—hagios, a holy one like Paul will describe throughout his letters when he refers to believers as saints.

So the believer becomes a little icon of Jesus who in this sense—no, not in a sense. As Paul himself says in Galatians:

...it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…

And that’s a real life of Christ within the believer here. That’s what predestination is all about. In fact, maybe I’ll give you this quote in just a minute. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is really clear that God predestines no one to hell, but He does predestine to salvation. This is His plan. That’s His plan of foreknowledge...is to give the graces that are necessary for us to be conformed to the image of the Son. And that’s what Paul is getting at here. So there’s a real change that takes place, at least according to Romans, which is Paul’s classic statement about the nature of salvation and the Good News of salvation. So this is a very, very crucial verse.

In fact, if you want to dig into this a little more, I co-authored a book with Michael Barber and John Kincaid—two good friends and colleagues of mine—called Paul, A New Covenant Jew. And in a chapter of that book, we have a whole chapter on justification, which...I think the subtitle of the chapter is “Conformed to an image of the Son.” And it’s all about the real transforming power of justification according to the theology of Paul. And John Kincaid, one of the authors of the book, coined a phrase that’s very helpful. He talks about “cardiac righteousness”—in other words, that the righteousness of those who are believers in Christ is not extrinsic. It’s not just something external. It’s actually interior, because God, through the Holy Spirit, changes the heart—the cardia. There’s an indwelling righteousness that’s part—in fact, not just part of—the essence of what salvation is all about in the New Covenant...that God takes out our hearts of stone, as Ezekial says, and gives us hearts of flesh. He puts a new spirit to dwell within the believer so that the believer can freely keep the commandments with the assistance of God’s grace and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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