It is interesting, from the point of view of Catholic/Lutheran dialogue, to see that the Holy Father has based his Lenten Message for 2010 around Romans 3:21-25.
Also interesting is that he does so in the context of a discussion of “justice”, and never once uses the word “righteousness”, even in quoting the scripture passage. Lutherans are very accustomed to hearing the phrase “Christ, the Righteousness of God”, but of course, the greek word Paul uses can be just as validly translated as “justice”, which, in the context in which the Holy Father discusses the passage, does give the text a different flavour.
It is also notable that the Holy Father does not simply address the New Testament doctrine of God’s Justice/Righteousness, but also has in mind, and directly discusses, the Hebrew understanding of Sedaqah (perhaps he is still thinking of his recent visit to the Roman Synagogue?).
Still, this message is also proof once again that this Pope understands the Lutheran concerns. I don’t think even Dr Martin could quibble with this statement, as he addresses “the Great Exchange”:
What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that “expiation” flows from the “blood” of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the “curse” due to man so as to give in return the “blessing” due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14). But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his “due”? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.” This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the “greatest” justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected.
The connection then to “justice” in his message is in the next paragraph:
Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.
I commend the Message to you all.