Romans 12:9–21

Today is Easter. I am not writing about all of yesterday’s readings, but this all-important pasage in Romans cannot escape comment.

Paul tells us what living a Christian life as if we actually really believe Christ has risen is all about. Paul is all about lists, many of them outlining sins and bad deeds. But here and in Philippians he outlines the qualities of the Christian life. That it’s our responsibility to take our faith seriously and act accordingly.

He begins with love: “Let love be genuine.” None of that ersatz insincere stuff, but genuine love that comes from Jesus Christ and that we demonstrate to those around us. The world abound in fake love to the point that the word is just short of being hopelessly corrupted. This is the love that stands beside those who are suffering; the love willing to take the risks involved in treating ebola patients; the love of a caretaking spouse for a dying wife or husband. It is far away from the celebrity “love” one sees on People magazine covers.

To make the contrast all the stronger, Paul juxtaposes love with hate in his very next breath: “hate what is evil.” He doesn’t say “hate people who are evil.” Our “civilized” society attempts to pretend there is no such thing as evil. That deliberately ramming a plane full or passengers into a mountainside or killing a roomful of first-graders or beheading people of other faiths can be explained solely as a psychological phenomenon or a chemical imbalance in the offender’s brain. Those may be the means, but I remain convinced that evil is afoot–just as it always has been. It cannot be wished away. I have come to believe that Paul is right: there are principalities and powers at work of which we know nothing.

As for actually living the Christian life we begin with”lov[ing] one another with mutual affection and out[doing] one another in honor.” We may despair for the world, but we are to find joy in community. How sad when that does not happen. Yet, as Paul makes clear, the responsibility comes back to each member of the body.

Above all–and particularly appropriate in the ever-escalating culture wars that seem to beset America, we are to respond in love. Paul realizes this is not easy: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (18) But even when our tempers are running hot we must remember that “it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (19). Indeed, rather than the vengeance that our minds so ache for, our hearts are to respond: “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” (20). And above all, resist evil: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (21)

A tall order, but if we are to truly follow Christ, then it’s an order that must always be on our minds in whatever we say or do.

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