Thought for the Day by Clive Barrett (St Michael’s)
Reading: Romans 12:9-21
Overcome Evil with Good
Mid-50s CE, Easter plus 20. Paul writes to new Christians in Rome whom he has never met. His words will be heard, read out, rhythmically (try it yourself!) He’s in full flow, a skilled orator delivering an impassioned sermon, moving his hearers. You hear his voice, his passion, his person.
Paul knows Hebrew scriptures and he knows the Jesus story. He knows first-hand, the difference it makes being Christian, in Christ.
Paul’s audience should not conform to the world, but be themselves transformed. It’s about Love, with a capital L, empowering them/us, how we are, how we engage with other people. This is Sermon on the Mount stuff, 20 years before Matthew’s gospel.
Community harmony matters. No-one is better than another. Look out for each other. Rejoice together. Weep together.
Extend this love to everyone, even people you don’t like. Bless those who harm you. Don’t repay evil for evil. Try to live in peace. Never harm anyone else – that’s God’s prerogative, not yours. Give enemies food and drink, like Jesus fed Judas at the Last Supper; they’ll not have a leg to stand on.
(To discover who your “enemies” are, ask the Government: they’ll say refugees, foreigners, “scroungers”, … – so that’s whom you should love!)
This is not an “implication” of the Gospel, an add-on to doctrinal belief. Faith is not a to-do list, not about Law and laws. Paul describes a whole mindset, alien to governments and newspapers. This new world-view, this attitude to life, transforms who we are:
Love, hope, patience, nonviolence, non-retaliation, perseverance, prayer, generosity, humility, blessing… these are the defining characteristics of being Christian. Even more than the finer points of doctrine, being in Christ is about our being, who we are, how we are. Each person transformed.
We are the people who overcome evil with Love.
If you would like to read an academic study of this subject, I recommend Jeremy Gabrielson, Paul’s Non-Violent Gospel: The Theological Politics of Peace in Paul’s Life and Letters, 2013.