Glynn Cardy continues his daily posts on the Community of Saint Luke Facebook page with days 21 to 30, embedded here for ease of reference. Clicking on the date (“Tuesday, June 30…”) will take you to the full entry on Facebook.
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.” [11b, 12a]
On our little planet that quote from Paul is a magnificent and frightening measure to hold up against our values and priorities.
Just yesterday I was having a discussion about economics. Grecian and Eurozone economics. ‘What if,’ I said, ‘the base line for an economy is to provide the conditions for the maximum number of people in a given society to be content. Not to be rich, but to be content.’
So, in relation to the Grecian /Eurozone crisis, what economic strategies would create the maximum contentment whether people have a little or a lot of money/resources? What would help create a happy future for the many? …
“Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill… others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely … [But] what does it matter [if] Christ is proclaimed?” [1:15-18]
REALLY? Does Paul really think that?
In other parts of his letters Paul is not reticence in lambasting his critics and those who preach Christ differently than he does. Yet here he seems to be saying that whatever the motivation, the simple fact that Christ is proclaimed is good enough for him.
Think of all the divisions between Christians. Think of all the inter-denominational strife, and all the intra-denominational strife. Think of the schisms, the persecuting and torturing, that Christians have inflicted on other Christians… Maybe if they had all read these verses from Philippians they’d have packed up their hatred and gone home?
It’s a very serious real question: ‘Why do Christians hate on each other?’ …
“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
An old Cherokee is teaching her grandchild about life: “A fight is going on inside me” she said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
She continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”
The boy thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandmother, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
This text, outlining Paul’s testimony and religious history, is key to understanding Paul’s faith, and correcting a significant misunderstanding – namely that Paul ceased being Jew and became a Christian. [I will quote extensively below from Brandon Scott’s “The Real Paul” pp 73-74.]
Is Paul in this passage renouncing his Jewish faith in favour of a Christian religion? Lonergan in his discussion of conversion says ‘religious conversion concerns root values for apprehending the transcendent’. In this regard we should ask some fundamental questions. What has changed religiously for Paul? He remains a Jew according to the flesh, he still believes in the one true God, unlike his converts who have “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God” [1 Thess 1:9]. What has changed for Paul is …
“For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
Somewhat serendipitously, I saw Romans 1:26-27 quoted in a school essay today. The essay’s author wrote: “I find this a hard concept to agree with [the condemnation of LGBT relationships] because the Bible was written thousands and thousands of years ago. So naturally many of the messages have changed over this period of time… like having the right to stone women. In New Zealand today thankfully that is illegal.”
The author of the essay is saying these words of Paul are time and culture bound….
The Book of Romans. Brandon writes, “This was probably Paul’s last letter we have, written around 58 CE from Corinth. Paul is planning to take to Jerusalem the collection which he has gathered from his communities for the poor in that city. After his trip, he plans to go to Rome on his way to Spain. The Roman community is the only church to which he writes not as the founder. There is some debate as to whether chapter 16 is part of the original letter. Some commentators argue that Rome is made up of Jewish and gentile house churches, but there is no evidence of this in the letter.”
Brandon writes a lot more about this letter too – not least about how reading Romans has long been influenced by the Augustinian/Lutheran perspective that Paul has converted from Judaism to Christianity.
But my head is not in it this morning. My head is stuck on one word. That word is “faith”. …
Romans 8:1 “There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus”.
It’s one of those verses that I can still recite. A verse, quoted in isolation and out of context, which seems designed to address teenage angst. Or was it just my angst in those formative years?
Looking back, there were some consistent and persistent negative messages falling on my head. Messages designed to condemn the exploratory, questioning, and experimental mind-set of the teenage Glynn. Messages that said, “Don’t”, “You can’t”, “You shouldn’t”, “Who do you think you are?”, and “Think of others before yourself”. [The ‘others’ were always adult authority figures]. There was a fair helping of guilt dumped on my head. …
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
‘This world’ was the empire of Rome. It was, according to Paul, the idolatry of the empire, its very arrogance, which led it to crucify Jesus. Paul’s insight/revelation – his topsy-turvy apocalypsis – was that the crucified Jesus was God’s anointed. A failure, an outcast, a ‘lowlife’, was God’s chosen.
So the first step in renewing one’s mind was to try to make room for the unthinkable: a ‘lowlife’ is God’s chosen. Who God chooses is not who the empire or society would choose. Who God values is not who the empire or society values. …
There are significant differences in how bibles translate these verses into English. … I want to talk mainly about the use of the word ‘Gentiles’. But briefly, the preference for the bracketed translations are that the word ‘Christ’ carries with it for readers today later Trinitarian ideas that were foreign to Paul; the word ‘he’ is generally overused for ‘God’ and offensive in that it confines God to a human male metaphor; and lastly the word ‘patriarchs’ is overused when the promises are to Paul’s Jewish ancestors, male and female.
Christopher Stanley points out in social terms there was no such thing as a Gentile in the ancient world. …
“Haters of the Human Race”
In this last post I want to talk about the death of Paul.
JD Crossan and Jonathon Reed in their 2004 book “In Search of Paul” [p.400ff] posit that he was martyred following the great fire in Rome, mid-July 64 CE. So he died almost exactly 1,951 years ago.
That fire totally destroyed 3 of Rome’s 14 regions, and severely damaged another 7. Tacitus’s “Annals”, written in the 220s, tells of the immediate belief that Nero himself ordered the fire. Likewise Suetonius’s “Lives of the Caesars”.
Suetonius though liked the idea that the Christians [as they were called in the 220s] were blamed and punished. Tacitus says vast numbers of Christians were arrested ‘not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race’.
They died horrifically: ‘Torn to death by dogs; or fastened to crosses… [and] burned to serve as lamps at night’.
So, Paul did not die like a Roman citizen executed by a privileged beheading. He died among all those rounded up in Nero’s scapegoat persecution. His death was not special, separate, or supremely important. …