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Saturday, June 13, 2015

Today’s Reading | Romans 15:1–13

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)

Paul makes many powerful claims about faithful living in his letters, but sometimes his phrasing makes me want to roll my eyes. The first verse in this text—which founds itself on a strong-weak dichotomy—almost undercuts the deeper message of the passage as a whole. More broadly, Paul is suggesting to us that as people of faith we are called to welcome one another into community and live in the harmony that God intends for us. The key to such harmonious living, according to Paul, is to let go of our own perceptions of what makes someone good or bad (or worth including and caring for or not). Instead, we’re compelled to see one another through Christ’s eyes and to welcome one another the way Christ has welcomed all of us—with an inclusiveness that transcends human perceptions of hierarchy and difference.

In this sense, Paul’s opening almost feels like an example of what not to do. The community we’re called to live into as Christian doesn’t mean saying to one another, “Even though you are bad/different/wrong/less than me, I will accept you.” Rather, it means looking at one another and saying to ourselves, “This person is beloved by God, even if I find it hard to understand.”

This was a crucial message for the early church, where Jewish Christians and Gentiles were seeking to overcome deep-seated biases and build a common faith life. It’s also a crucial message for our world today, which is divided in a thousand different ways both inside the church and out. The kind of inclusive harmony our faith calls us to can only exist when we see each other through God’s eyes: equally beloved, equally deserving of justice and voice.

Amazing God, we give you thanks for your grace, which claims us all equally in love. We give you thanks that you have called us to be in community together even when we find it difficult. Help us to see each other through your eyes and love each other in ways that reflect your grace. Amen.

Written by Layton Williams, Pastoral Resident

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