More interesting thoughts on St Paul from Pope Benedict (see previous post), this time looking at how Paul developed the early church’s emphasis on “the gift that Jesus made of himself to the Father in order to set us free from sin and death”.
The pope begins by citing a couple of my favourite New Testament texts:
From this gift of Jesus himself, Paul draws the most engaging and fascinating expressions of our relationship with Christ: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21); “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
(The last verse being the basis for one of my favourite Christmas hymns: Thou Who Wast Rich Beyond All Splendour.)
The pope then continues with another quote from a certain “wild boar in the Lord’s vineyard” (as one of his less-illustrious predecessors put it):
Worth remembering is the comment Martin Luther made, then an Augustinian monk, on these paradoxical words of Paul: “This is that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners, wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ is not Christ’s but ours” (Comments on the Psalms of 1513-1515). And thus we are saved.
Again, without wishing to downplay the real and important areas of disagreement that remain between Roman Catholics and Lutherans, how wonderful it is to find Luther’s words being quoted with such warm approval by Pope Benedict; and, even more so, to find the pope articulating so clearly “that mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinner”: the exchange that results in Christ’s righteousness becoming ours, as our sins become his, entirely by Christ’s work and not by our own work or efforts.
“And thus we are saved.”