Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Believing In Him (part 27)

Though this is an obvious understatement, Paul has said much.  Having done so, he begins to reach some immediate conclusions and logical deductions that are forced by what has been presented in the first four chapters of the letter.  Those deductions begin with “Therefore.”  He writes “Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).  Having been brought into the covenant people (declared righteous) through the instrumentality of faith (belief in God and its concurrent unswerving loyalty to the claims made by that God, per the example of Abraham), a state of peace between humanity and God is engendered.  This peace is attached to the Lord, who is Jesus, who is the Christ (the Anointed One/Messiah/King). 

“Peace” operates on a number of levels.  One of those levels will be overtly addressed by Paul in relatively short order.  A second level of the operation of “peace,” which is more subtle and subversive, is surely also implied, and we can see through it the juxtaposition and choice of particular words used at this particular place in the letter.  What’s subtle and subversive in the use of peace?  Doesn’t everybody desire peace?  Answering that question and addressing that issue requires us to ask another question and to see where that might lead us.  About what might a citizen of Rome think when they hear the word “peace”?  It would be much more than an inward state of bliss or mellow contentment, or a cessation of against-ness, or of a lack of spiritual conflict.  The fact that Paul will go on to describe peace with God, the need for peace with God, and the way that such peace is generated, might inform us that these particular dimensions of peace (with which Paul deals in verses six through eleven of this chapter) would not necessarily spring to mind when Paul speaks of peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

It may very well be the case that Paul expects his Roman audience, as they are fully ensconced within the city of Rome and therefore live at the seat of Roman imperial ideology and its associated imperial theology and attendant propaganda, to think of the “pax Romana,” or “Roman peace” when he writes to them concerning peace.  This was an exalted ideal for Rome, as they imagined themselves to be the bringers of peace and justice to the world, with this having begun under the revered and exalted Emperor Caesar Augustus.  This peace, of course, was brought about primarily through military conquest.  Following military conquest when Rome deemed it necessary (some would simply acquiesce to the power of Rome without raising arms against them), the Roman peace would be secured by the ongoing threat of the exercise of military power.  Together with that, any thoughts of rebellion were quelled and quenched by the reminder of Rome’s power of life over death, with this best (and most horribly) embodied by the Roman cross, as it was the means of execution reserved for recalcitrant slaves and rebels against Rome.  Crucifixion was employed to send a political message.  Even the crucifixion of a recalcitrant slave would convey Rome’s political might, as it reminded those that would witness the event, because of its also being used as a means of execution for those that challenged the power of Caesar, that all were slaves of Rome. 

By a variety of means, Caesar extended his power and his version of peace.  All good and well, one might think, but one might also question the need to generate thoughts along such lines as we read through Romans.  Addressing that, one has to come to terms with the fact that not only does the message of the Gospel (Jesus is Lord) have a spiritual component, as a declaration that heaven and earth has overlapped in Jesus (heaven come to earth), but it has a substantial political component as well.  “Peace” was a charged and controversial term.  Assuredly, the means of achieving peace were as debated in Paul’s day as it is in ours.  “Gospel” itself is a term associated with the Caesar and his rule.  Calling Jesus “Lord” is a subversive activity, as it usurps the power of the Caesar, who was looked upon as Lord and Savior.  “Christ” is not a neutral term either.  It is not merely a religious or spiritual term.  When somebody says that Jesus Christ is their Lord and Savior, they are making claims in relation to the kingdom of God that Jesus announced had come to earth and of their loyalty to that kingdom and kingdom program above loyalty to any other person or nation.  Whether they know it or not, or realize it or not, calling Jesus Savior does not have to do with going to heaven upon death.  Laying claim to salvation is about God becoming King on earth, as in heaven. 

As we know, “Christ” is the Greek translation of “Messiah,” and the Jewish Messiah was well-understood to be the King of Israel.  As the Messiah was also understood to be the physical manifestation of the Creator God of Israel, the Messiah was also thought to be King of the entire world.  That, of course, along with many other titles (son of god, to choose one), was a title of, and a claim made by the Caesar.  Applying these titles to Jesus, calling Him Lord and Master and Savior and King while also speaking about Him in terms of peace and salvation (that which was then said to be brought to the world by Caesar and by Rome), could not be more of a direct challenge to Caesar, to his rule, to his way of orchestrating and ruling his kingdom, to his claims about himself, to the claims made about him by others, and to the power (death) that stood behind him and any other pretender to God’s rightful place of rule of this world that was brought into existence at His word and hand.      

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