Sunrise over Darajat, a Bedouin village in the Negev, Israel
The Apostle Paul is one of the more outspoken people in the New Testament. I love his verbosity, his hyperbole and most of all I love his deep passion for Jesus. I don’t always like what he has to say but I do believe that if each one of us possessed a fraction of his love and tenacity for the Gospel Christianity might look a whole lot different than it does now. Perhaps even our living might appear differently.
Paul talks of love, let love be your only debt. This love that he talks about though is a response to the earlier verses where he tells the Christian community, both Jewish and Gentile Christians to obey the rules of civil society. Which I’m sure was no easy task considering it was the Roman Empire whose rulers they were to obey along with their taxation system and edicts.
With rulers such as Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, and particularly Nero, the one ‘in charge’ when Paul lived, the commoner didn’t have much of a chance for self-determination. His social class dictated the level of squalor that he lived in.
Yet Paul still says to them, you must pay your taxes. You know like Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is due Caesar.” (Mark 12:17) Some things never change do they? No matter how ‘good’ we are, no matter what higher ethical choices we make, no matter how many times we go to church or pray to God in the end, come April 15th, we still have taxes that we owe. Like it or not that’s part of the deal for being a citizen, both in the Roman Empire and now to good old Uncle Sam.
Although Paul urged them to show respect to civil authority they needn’t be passive and here is where the love comes in. He jumps from talking about tax returns to love. They are to love others as much as they love themselves. Translated that means to do no harm to another person in fact help that person, to be faithful in your marriage in all ways, to be honest and truthful with yourself, with God and with others, it means to be the compassionate face of Christ, and to be happy with what you have.
Paul’s love is not syrupy, romantic or passive. You won’t find Paul’s love being painted across a Hallmark card. You’re more likely to find it on the face of a stranger who knocks at your door, or at your workplace when your colleague receives her pink slip, or on the soccer field when your child is tripped by another less than fair player. Because when we are least likely to want to love is when we are called upon to love the most. It is hard work to love as Paul tells them to love.
Paul talks of love within constraints of the Roman Empire. We too must think of love within the constraints of the ‘Roman Empires’ in our time, our living because there are plenty of limitations lashed upon us. There are so many ways in which our lives are clearly not our own and the circumstances that we find ourselves in are nothing of our doing.
I am glad that August is over. How about you? I mean it is sort of a mixed bag because usually the end of summer brings melancholy and a sort of ‘hunkerin’ down feeling because we know that all to well the winter months will drag on and on. This year though, August has brought us concerns of other proportions which is why I’m glad it’s over.
There are concerns of financial security when the stock market took a serious dive bringing anxiety and fear to those who are invested and those people who live on a fixed income. And the job report that was just announced on Friday casts a pall to the tune of 9.1% unemployment with no new jobs created.
August brought us physical concerns. Concerns for our safety. The earthquake sounded a newfound alarm in something that really, we had not given too much thought to in the past. That unusual rocking and rattling reminds us of the impermanence of our reality, that at any time, our world can be shaken and our possessions broken to smithereens.
And just seven days ago hurricane Irene unlashed her furry on our communities. Some of us may still be without power. It’s been one troublesome event after another this August. We might feel like we have thrown into the arena to fight the gladiators of Rome.
How do we live within the empire of our day? How do we contend with those overriding factors that are out of our control and that impact us in ways that we don’t want or never could have dreamed of? How do we love as Christ loved when we are in need of loving ourselves?
If Paul were here now he would say to us the same thing as he said to the first century Christians. “Wake up, get dressed. There’s a whole lot of lovin’ to do. The night is over get yourself out of your bed of self-pity!
Being morning people means that we have an opportunity and a responsibility to see by the new light of day. ‘Morning is broken, like the first morning’ of creation that we world ever saw. Unblemished. Perfect. Beautiful. Before anyone else we can see a way out, or a way through distressing times because that is what living in the care and concern and love of Christ means. We know that resurrection can happen and it does with each new day we are resurrected to love and be loved. We are morning people.
Easter Sunrise over the Jordan River Valley and the Jordanian Mountains taken from on top of the Mount of Olives.
We have been chosen to live a different way of seeing and enacting the law of love and compassion especially when the hounds of the empires begin to howl.
God is for us, not against us. God will show us how to actively engage in loving and rebuilding. God will love us just because. It was the Apostle Paul who said, ‘all you need is love’, not the Beatles.
And yes, we will still have to pay our taxes.
Amen and Amen!
Sunrise over the mountains of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf of Aqaba, taken from the Sinai, Egypt.