I Am Under ObligationFr. Barnabas Powell
The dictionary defines the word “obligation” as “an act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.” When I was growing up, my mother taught me that I wasn’t free to do what I wanted until I did what I must. In other words, I had obligations to my family, my home, and myself! “Brush your teeth” wasn’t a suggestion; it was an obligation!
But modern society has seen obligations change and shift. Some ideas that use to be seen as obligations are now frowned upon, while some acts that use to be seen as even harmful to society now seem to be expected! Surely no one believes we can actually build a stable life on such shifting sands! In fact, it seems that the very idea of “obligation” is an affront to our modern sense of being “free.” But what do we lose as a society if we abandon a notion of timeless obligation or honor or duty? We lose our very selves.
Look at our lesson today in Romans 1:1-7, 13-17:
PAUL, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to know, brethren, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish: so I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
St. Paul writes his epistle (a fancy name for a letter) to the Romans to lay out his understanding of the Christian way of life. He writes this letter to the Church there in Rome because he’s headed there as a prisoner to stand trial before Caesar himself. You see, Paul was a Roman citizen, and every Roman citizen had the legal right to have his trial heard before the Emperor. Plus, Paul wanted to write to the Church in Rome this letter to help them navigate living the Christian life daily in the capital where they were surrounded by multiple temptations of affluence and power!
Paul’s opening of the Letter to the Romans is both profound and significant because of what he insists he is obligated to do as one who has received the grace of apostleship. He is obligated to to the educated and uneducated; to the “wise and to the foolish” to preach the Gospel. In other words, he’s obligated to preach to everyone!
And what is the message that Paul is obligated to declare to everyone? The message is we are all CALLED by God’s love, His grace, His purpose. All of us. Everyone. You and me!
We are CALLED to belong to Jesus Christ. Each of us have been created to “belong” to Jesus Christ. For we moderns that notion is almost offensive, especially since we humans have witnessed in history the abject horrors and immorality of slavery. So what does this “belonging” mean? It means that our purpose, our very existence is intended to reflect our awareness that we are “made.” We are not accidents. We are not purposeless. We are made for God, not so that we might be His property as much as we might enjoy His eternal companionship.
We are CALLED to be saints. We are called to be holy as our Father in heaven is holy. But that word “holy” is so misunderstood today. It means “set apart for a specific use.” So we moderns wander in our darkened confusion about what we are “suppose to be.” We try to “find ourselves.” And all the while our true purpose, our true destiny is all tied up in becoming exclusive to God himself.
Today, are you willing to hear the Call on your life? St. Paul felt he was obligated to tell you who you really are. If you hear this Call today, then know, you were meant to be Orthodox on Purpose!