Thursday, March 26, 2015
A Read-along of Romans, Chapter 13: Citizenship and the Life of Faith in Christ Jesus
Chapter 12 of Paul's letter to the Romans speaks to the matter of how we shall live in relationship to each other, now that we know a new life in the person of Jesus Christ. Good. Well and good, actually. The ideals and aspirations he sets before the Church as a whole...and how we relate to people in our immediate vicinity around the Church make generous provision for actually taking the time to BE the body of Christ in the world. It turns what could easily become an insular and self-protective lifestyle into one that is not only public but also permeable to the wider society in which the Church finds itself. His charter, though, makes sure we understand that we are not just another part of the world (and thus part and parcel to the worldliness that distracts from God). Instead, Christ-followers are called upon to be faithful to the Gospel while at the same time being fully engaged in the community.
The Greek word for that sense of community is polis. That word translates not only as "city" meaning a place. It also means "where the people are" over and opposed to "where they are not." Where people are not is often referred to as eremon: "wilderness." So, Paul is not just talking about being somewhere in founding a community in Christ. He is talking about the reality we find ourselves in today: that the Church and its members must live out their awareness of being together in Christ while they are at the same time caught up in the political life of a wider society humming away all around them.
The reality of being in Christ? It is that we are also, inextricably, enmeshed in the affairs of the State as well. For Paul, that meant ROME. For us, on so many levels, it means being a citizen of our neighborhoods, our towns, our counties, our states, our nation, our hemisphere, our wider global community. Where there is humanity, there will be politics. Where there are politics, well....you get the idea.....
I had a mentor once who, when another colleague expressed frustration over the fact that her church and the town were in conflict over some zoning issues and the presence of homeless people sheltering around the church, said, "Yeah, the world-and the Church, for that matter-would be a much better place if it weren't for all these....people."
Paul understands that answering the call to a life in Christ will create tension for anyone who is also subject to temporal authorities and the rule of civil law. If you will: Paul is telling us in Chapter 13 that we have to get used to carrying two passports. One helps us to function in a world that does not necessarily recognize or choose to make room for people who follow a living Savior and seek the justice of his coming kingdom while at the same time struggling to meet the expectations of the welfare of the State.
A good Christian obeys the law, seeking to assert not only understanding of the same but also their role in forging a justice that is continually reforming systems that all to readily succumb to corruption. We are pledged to be participants, bot bystanders. We are called to act, rather than to sit idly by, when the commonweal needs support. We as members of the Body of Christ are not excused from participating in the world's political scene. Instead, we are provoked to take a deeper role, meanwhile expressing our faith more fully in actually, and actively, loving our neighbors as we do ourselves.
How do we accomplish that ideal?
Paul tells us this: WAKE UP! It's time. In fact, the time has already come and broken out upon the Church. Its role and its call us to fully and completely engage the present moment and its present context as agents of God's love and desire for justice. It's all about working toward the healing of the world and the societies that swell therein....and to be willing to set aside all that distracts.
WAKE UP. Plug in, learn, participate, focus on how faith can inform and support our common call to make our local communities (and more broadly the wider society of humankind) a better place to live. A healthy ecology, a vital and benevolent government, an engaged citizenry....these can be hallmarks of the inbreaking Kingdom of God as much as angels in the sky, or miracles all around us.