bible blog 762

Thi blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:

Aung San Ssu Kyi accepts Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo

Romans 1:1-1

THE LETTER OF PAUL TO THE ROMANS

Salutation

1Paul, a servant* of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,2which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures,3the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh4and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit* of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,5through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name,6including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ,

7 To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.9For God, whom I serve with my spirit by announcing the gospel* of his Son, is my witness that without ceasing I remember you always in my prayers,10asking that by God’s will I may somehow at last succeed in coming to you.11For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—12or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.13I want you to know, brothers and sisters,* that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as I have among the rest of the Gentiles.14I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish15— hence my eagerness to proclaim the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Roman Postal Service

Before we get into the deep theological insights of this letter, it’s good to stand back from it a little and to wonder at its existence. It was sent as an encouragement to believers,both Jews and Gentiles, in Rome by a Jewish missionary who was probably, at that time, detained in house arrest by Roman officials in Ephesus. Although he, Paul, had not been in Rome, nor shared in founding the Roman church, his conviction about the world-wide nature of the church, led him to write the letter and arrange for its transfer to Rome. In other words although he was part of a tiny group of followers of Jesus of Nazareth, he behaved like the boss of a multinational trading company or a high ranking officer of the Roman army, communicating vital business across hundreds of miles.

Then there’s the response of the group who received the letter: they recognised its value and kept it over years, maybe copying itfor the benefit of other churches, until finally it was recognised two hundred years later as holy scripture by the whole church. There’s a strong sense of men and women of no special status, believing that their faith in Jesus was of extraordinary importance to the whole world and taking care that it should grow and be communicated. I suppose that now we might well regard small groups of people with the same pretensions as daft enough to be dangerous, which is roughly how these first Christians were seen by the Romans.

Notice also the care Paul takes in addressing these distant  believers: they are God’s beloved whose faith is known throughout the world; they have such gifts that when Paul succeeds in visiting he will gain as much from their faith as they will from his. He at a great distance remembers them always in his prayers. He is also clear about his own status: he has been called  and set apart to announce the “glad tidings” to the Gentiles. He has journeyed beyond the civilised world and has learned from Greeks (who think they are civilised) and barbarians (whom the Greeks think are uncivilised). The gospel he preaches is about Jesus who was Jewish in his earthly origins but revealed as divine by his resurrection, and therefore a saviour for all races.

All this is done with such a sure hand that we can only marvel that it was dictated by a a busy man who was in all probability under arrest. Hearing Aung San Ssu Kyi speak movingly this weekend of her own time of house arrest in Burma;  and of how important the Nobel prize had been in sustaining her sense of comradeship, I could see more clearly the greatness of Paul who in similar circumstances found faith to sustain others.

One of the ways in which we can carry on the work of Paul is by our use of the internet to build bonds amongst Christian believers from many different parts of the world and to include in our circle of friendship people of other faiths and of none. His letter to Rome probably took a month or so to get there. My blog, for better or worse, is received round the whole world in a fraction of a second. All the more reason to write but also all the more reason to write carefully!

Matthew 17:14-21

Jesus Cures a Boy with a Demon

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him,15and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water.16And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’17Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’18And Jesus rebuked the demon,* and it* came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly.19Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’20He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a* mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’*

effect of health provision in a very poor country: Kerala

The story is the sequel to the story of the transfiguration (see blog 761), in which Jesus is revealed as God’s beloved son, the one promised by the law and the prophets. Now from the height of revelation he comes down amongst needy people. We may say, he comes to heal; but we might be better to say, he comes to show that people should heal each other. The healing power of Jesus is apparently miraculous but Matthew wants us to see that his refusal to accept disease and his angry determination to restore are health are what really counts. If we rebel against disease and show determination to heal, we will succeed. The mustard seed faith is not a faith in miracles it is faith  that human beings inspired by God can move mountains. For example the establishment of good national health services, paid for by the citizen, in every nation in the world, would bring such benefit to humanity that no amount of loopy nonsense about “socialism” should prevent it. Every time some fat, rich and privately insured person tells the poor they should pay for healthcare, they ought to hear Jesus’ voice saying to them, “Faithless and perverse generation, how long must I be with you?” The real miracle in the story is that the eternal goodness of God’s beloved son is focused on an eplieptic boy in an obscure location in an obscure province of the Roman Empire. Trust in God, even if it’s as small as a mustard seed, tells us that God invites people to share his focus on the needs of all his children

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