No Condemnation

Were one to peruse the four Gospels in the Bible, even casually, the words “I love you” would not be found anywhere on the lips of Jesus. The reason is simple: in Christ God proved His love for us and didn’t just talk about it. After washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “I have given you an example” (John 13:15). He didn’t come to give us a book. In fact, the only time we know for sure He wrote anything was before the Pharisees presenting Him with a woman caught in adultery and He wrote in the sand, telling us something about words: they’re cheap. Jesus didn’t just talk about His love for us; He proved it, especially on Good Friday.

This is consistent with God’s revelation in the Old Testament where He proved Himself to be a God of justice. Through Moses, He set up a covenant with His people, Israel under the terms, “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live” (Dt. 30:19). After returning from exile and finding the Book of Deuteronomy amid the ruins of the temple, Ezra read it out loud and “all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law” (Neh. 8:9). They understood that God meant what He said through Moses and all the prophets who followed him: He was a God of justice and they failed to heed the terms of their covenant with Him. In 721 BC the Assyrians destroyed 10 tribes of Israel to the north and in 587 BC the tribes of Benjamin and Judah to the south were destroyed by the Babylonians.

Today we stand under similar condemnation by our repeated violation of God’s commandments summarized in the Decalogue. After declaring that “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29), and “all who depend on works of the law are under a curse” (Gal. 3:10), Saint Paul concluded, “God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). “All” means, all, and not just some because the law is written on every human heart by the Creator. It is revealed to us in Scripture only because we were too blind to read it on our own and so went on violating our human nature and the laws governing it. We are all human beings and there’s only One Creator. We have all violated God’s commandments and so stand condemned before Him.

The “old man” and “old woman” die only with difficulty, however, since we persist in producing our litany of accomplishments before God as though they will gain us a hearing when, by the law of accomplishment, we stand condemned by its very terms: “the one who does these things will live by them” (Gal. 3:12), a test we’ve already failed miserably. Jesus presented us with these terms exactly in a parable addressed “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else” (Luke 18:9). A Pharisee came presenting his litany of accomplishments, saying, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” Meanwhile, the tax collector “stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’” Jesus concluded the parable, saying, “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former” (Luke 18:11-14). How is this possible? Or how is it that five virgins were excluded from entering the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 25:12) while “tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God” ahead of the religious leaders (Matt. 21:31)?

The answer is simple: God was not content to leave us in our condemnation and misery. Instead, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal. 4:4-5). In short, “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13) in total innocence which is not ours by natural birth. This means that willfully setting aside the law of God in the name of the separation of Church and State, as we’ve done today in the West, does not relieve us of our condemnation before a just God since the remedy has been supplied, not by contrived ignorance on our part, but by God Himself. The law of accomplishment is useless or what Saint Paul called “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8).

There was no one who observed the law more perfectly than Saint Paul who by his own admission “progressed in Judaism” beyond many of his contemporaries and proved himself more zealous for the “ancestral traditions” (see Gal. 1:14). It is doubtful that anyone could equal the zeal and progress Paul made in observing the law and yet how casually we persist in pretending to do so when Saint Paul himself would say to anyone willing to listen, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:19-20). Paul declares himself to “have been crucified with Christ” which is an image for Baptism. As a result, he’s now justified, not by observance of the law or a litany of accomplishments before God, but through “faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

Our God is a God of few words. He inspired a single book written through various sacred authors over thousands of years and, “in the fullness of time,” spoke One Word, the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ, which is so full of meaning that we are still unpacking it all these centuries later. In the Old Testament God demonstrated in the destruction of Israel that He is a God of justice and in the New Testament He proved His love by sending His Son to relieve us of our condemnation for violating our nature and the laws governing it. Producing a litany of accomplishments in the face of what God has placed on offer in Jesus Christ amounts to a denial of one’s need for the remedy He has provided. The five wise virgins understood this, as did tax collectors and prostitutes in the time of Jesus and, as a result, they repented and asked for mercy. Likewise, the time has come for us to revive in faith and awaken from the slumber of our indifference beginning with acknowledging the great love on offer in the Memorial of Christ’s proven love in the Eucharist. It is Eucharist, after all, which is at the heart of the Church’s prayer from the Greek, eucharistia meaning, “thanksgiving.” For what, we might ask? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:25) for “now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Photo by Fr. Barry Braum on Unsplash


Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR currently serves as a Parochial Vicar at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He previously served for 29 years as a professor of theology at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH and has been a priest for 35 years and a TOR Franciscan for 41 years.

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