This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe betide me if I do not proclaim the gospel! 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.
19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Paul explains, a little incoherently, that being an apostle is not a profession freely chosen by him, for which he might be paid, but an obligation to God where his “pay” is the satisfaction of offering the gospel free of charge. This reminds him that he is a slave not only of God but also of men and women whose customs he has shared in order to communicate the message. Those who respond in faith become blessings for him. In turn this leads him to reflect that the life and apostle is a tough one which requires rigorous discipline.
His words suggest that one of the marks of honest evangelism is to share the lives of those to whom the message is to be given. Only in this way can the missionary understand the joys and sorrows, rights and wrongs of a particular community’s life and share his message relevantly. If profound understandings of life are to be communicated beyond the cultures in which they developed, Paul’s disciplined readiness to share unfamiliar cultures is desirable. Of course as Christianity and Islam have sometimes done, you can impose a religion on a conquered people, but it is deformed and travestied by this method.
Paul would have known that his capacity to understand a foreign culture and so to speak his message in a relevant way, was limited; but he thought that the attempt to make his gospel native was worthwhile. He expresses no political opinion but clearly the imperialism of Rome was put to question by this man for whom no races were barbarian and no cultures impossible to share.
The UK is currently in the grip of a panic about immigration, fuelled by popular politics and prejudice, which treats foreigners coming here to settle as if they were the kind of imperialists we used to be ourselves. Paul. for whom all national and cultural boundaries were irrelevant in the light of the gospel, would have judged this as contemptible. The fact that expressing this contempt cost ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown his political career, doesn’t make it wrong.