Romans

Justified

(Lent 1A    Romans 5:12-19)

I'm usually harder on myself than others, but today I felt some frustration with a neighbor and made a comment I might wish I hadn't, because I felt justified in doing it.

Or sort of.

We were standing in the front yard this afternoon with our dogs, Molly and Sam, and they are two big dogs. Sam weighs 125 pounds. Our original plan to walk the dogs had fallen into disarray when Molly, who is arthritic, decided she really wanted to lie on the snow mound in our front yard instead. Sam settled in beside her to nibble on the snow.

As we regrouped, Sam suddenly became very alert, leaping to his feet, ears at attention. I followed his sight line and noticed an unfamiliar dog in a neighbor's driveway, just across the street. I quickly realized that the dog was unleashed, unaccompanied, and coming our way. I asked my husband to get a better handle on Sam, and then all heck broke loose. He got Sam, but he also had Molly, and the dog ran into our yard and came up over the snow mound, and Molly and Sam began to leap toward him, and my husband's iPod got involved and he yanked on the dogs and he landed on his back on the mound of snow, dogs barking and flying backward with him.

By this time our neighbor had realized the dog was loose and proceeded to cross the street at an unexcited pace, arriving in our driveway about the same time my husband fell over. She had no leash and could not corral the dog, who ran off from her down beyond their house. She did not even speak to us. Not one word. She turned and walked away. My husband got back to his feet, and as I watched her leave us, I said, "This is why we use a leash."

And then she spoke to me, "Don't get snippy with me. Your dog has landed in my yard."

She turned and walked away. Case closed. (She is an attorney.)

Now, my concerns were many. We live, both of us, four houses in from a busy street, and her dog could easily have gone the other way and been hurt. We have another neighbor whose dog frequently gets out unsupervised, and I have spent more time than I would like to recall rounding him up and taking him home again. All dogs come to our house, you see, because they want to play with Sam and Molly. I was also irritated that she didn't seem to care about the havoc her dog had caused. And finally, though it may be true that one of my dogs has walked on her grass, they never go out the door without a leash, at least not with me, because I am Obsessive Compulsive Over-Protective Dog Mama. So while it's possible that Molly yanked away from one of the children while being walked (and perhaps even likely), the dog would have been on a leash and would not have been wandering away from the house unsupervised from the get-go.

Due to all these factors of moral superiority, I felt justified in my remark to her. I believe in the leash law, I follow the leash law, I expect others to do the same, or Canine Chaos will certainly rule on our tree-lined street.

But. But. But.

I seem to remember reading in Miss Manners that there is nothing ruder than telling someone else she is rude, and that makes me the bad neighbor in this transaction.  It's possible that the time I complained about her snow plow guy putting the snow from her driveway on OUR side of the street, where the city plow then pushed it into OUR driveway, is still on her mind, and she has been waiting for a moment to feel moral superiority herself.

Justification as a feeling is as bad an idea, most of the time, as it
is a theological viewpoint, in the sense that no two people will agree
on who is really justified and how. For example, here's a chart about Justification straight from Wikipedia.

 
Tradition Process
or
Event
Type
of
Action
Permanence Justification
&
Sanctification
Roman Catholic Process Synergism Can be lost via mortal sin Part of the same process
Lutheran Event Divine monergism Can be lost via loss of faith Separate from and prior to sanctification
Methodist Event Synergism Can be lost Dependent upon continued sanctification
Orthodox Process Synergism Can be lost via mortal sin Part of the same process of theosis
Reformed Event Divine monergism Cannot be lost Basis for sanctification

I'm a little worried that I'm not represented on the chart at all. I'm reading Paul's letter to the Romans and thinking, as I often do, that I want to actually talk to him and see if I can get him to explain what he meant and to fill in the blanks of his teaching. Was he in Jerusalem when Jesus was there? Did he hear him speak? Or did it all come to him second hand? What part of his context am I missing when I try to understand his letters to the young churches?

I remember a D.Min. student who tried to put me in a theological category and eventually decided that I was so UNorthodox that I couldn't be a Christian, really, much less called to ministry.  All I could see about him was that he claimed it was okay for women to be in ministry, but he treated me like a law-breaker, chastising me for my beliefs.

We were living on opposite sides of the street, and we could not see each other's point of view.

We can't help trying to parse Paul and his words of introduction to and instruction for the Romans. I don't like thinking that it was Jesus' obedience that brought forgiveness, because I don't believe that the first and second persons of the Trinity are separate enough for that to even be possible. I believe that part of God walked among us as Jesus, that humankind's self-inflicted separation from a loving God led inevitably to the fear that fueled the Crucifixion, that Jesus showed us a new way of loving and a new way of winning out over the darkness that is part of ourselves.

And I can't fit into Paul's box, but I do like this last part.

Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act
      of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
(Romans 5:19)

Jesus' act of physical surrender to the human powers and principalities did, amazingly, lead to life for all, a sense of hope, that death is not the end, that worldly powers cannot overcome love, and that nothing, to quote Paul, can separate us from the love of God. And that means more than being justified.

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