The National Catholic Review
As the passages from Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12 illustrate, we await the coming of the peaceable Kingdom, the fulfillment of the promises of God, the establishment of the Kingdom that shall not end. And we await it in the context of history, otherwise known as our ordinary lives. Christianity is lived out in historical contexts and circumstances, from which none of us can escape. In our historical contexts we make missteps, false steps, and encounter problems and frustrations. Paul’s passage from Romans 15:4-9 gives us insight into the lived reality of Christianity in the middle of the 1st century in Rome. The Church at Rome encountered its own difficulties with living out the faith, as the Church in Rome does, I believe, even in the 21st century. So it is interesting to be in 21st century Rome, commenting on Paul’s 1st century Epistle to the Romans in light of Pope Benedict’s encyclical regarding the nature of Christian hope, Spe Salvi. In the midst of these lived realities, the encounters with our failings on a regular basis, we have "hope," not just as individuals, but as the Church, and as the Church for the whole world through Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of this "hope" in 15:4, which he links to the "steadfastness" (hypomonL) and "encouragement" (paraklLsis) of the Scriptures. Our hope is promised in the Scriptures and one can trust in their "steadfastness" and in the "encouragement" (or "consolation") which they bring. Pope Benedict’s new encyclical Spe Salve 9 discusses hypomonL in the New Testament and of this word he says, "knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to "receive what is promised" (Heb. 10:5)...Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on certainty of hope" (9). Paul wrote of hope in light of the historical circumstances of a Church which was divided – at least at some internal level – between the Strong and the Weak (14:1-4; 15:1). This division probably highlights differences between Jewish and Gentile believers in the 1st century Church at Rome (14:1-6). Paul asks in light of Christian hope that the Strong and the Weak live in "harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus" (15:5), in order "that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (15:6). Paul calls upon the Church in Rome to "welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ welcomed you" (15:7). Paul does not deny the differences between the Strong and the Weak, but he asks that the Christians in Rome seek "harmony," glorify God with "one voice" and "welcome one another." In the 1st century context Paul calls for unity based on the hope of Jesus Christ, asking Jewish and Gentile Christians to live out their faith together. These differences in the Church have been swallowed up by history – we no longer look with awe on the reality that "God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18) – but the question we might ask is: who are the Strong and the Weak in the Church today? Since the 16th century, western Christianity has been divided, how can we "together...with one voice glorify God"? Yet even within the Church at Rome, there are differences amongst those who seek different models of Church leadership, different models of liturgy, different models of ordination. Are we able to "welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ welcomed you"? Do we live in "harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus"? In making sense of Paul’s image of the Strong and the Weak, as we prepare for the coming of the peaceable Kingdom this Advent, who are the Strong today and who are the Weak? How should the Strong "put up with the failings of the weak" and not act "to please" themselves? (15:1). I do not know who are the Strong and who are the Weak, but I do know that however great our failings, and in the midst of the even greater messiness of history, we are called "to live in harmony with one another" (15:5). John W. Martens

Comments

Anonymous | 12/9/2007 - 9:14pm
Having expected of myself always to live in a state of lovingness--or peacefulness--I yet see the example of Jesus in the temple driving out the moneychangers with His "zeal for His Father's house". I know myself not to have this refined sense of justice, however--and know that the Holy Spirit hasn't yet given me the knowledge (if it will ever happen I don't know)of how and when to do this with the righteousness of Jesus. I always get "messed up" when attempting it, and instead always go back to my own "spiritual childhood" and "littleness"--leaving all the "correction" to the hand of God--and the ordained, because it is apparent that I must, at least for now. We, who are in these shoes, and not ordained to do these things, learn that we do best when we always stay in this place of lovingness--where God is. When we stray is when we are in trouble and not peaceable. Sometimes this means putting up with others "dumping" on oneself. While hard to take--one soon learns that it is easier than going through the wringer of what people think when one "stands up for oneself" and is accused of pride that way. There are many, many injustices we put up with in life--it will all work out in the end for those who LOVE! After all, peacefulness in the heart is where it starts