Thursday of Pentecost 15 – Romans 13:1-10

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. I live in Portland, Oregon. Contrary to what news reports have led people to think over the past few years, we are not all homeless anarchists here. The riots have died down, but the homeless encampments remain. In truth, the majority of my fellow citizens believe that government and other structures are a good idea. There are many things we could do better and much that is wrong in our world, but we will only make things worse if we get rid of all the institutions and structures which govern our lives. I am a student of history and such experiments have never, to my knowledge, ended well. While we need government to guard and protect the space in which we live, it is also true that government cannot do some things. It cannot make my life good. I still need to work at constructing a wise and well-lived life. Rules will never make me righteous. The highway patrolman beside the road gets me to slow down, but at heart, I may still be a speeder who will accelerate as soon as I am out of his sight. More enforcement does mean better people. It takes something which power cannot provide to make better people. Paul speaks of obeying the government in this passage. He was writing to folks who lived in the capital of the empire. The role of government was important for them. Paul asserts that one could be a good citizen and a good Christian. But at the end of this reading notice that Paul starts to speak of something else, something more important. There is no law which can command love, but love keeps all the laws. Why we keep the law is important. In Matthew 18, Jesus lays down the guidelines for how Christians handle disputes. They sound like laws and they are rules, but they are much more. 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17) If we treat these simply as rules to be obeyed, then we have not heard what Jesus says. Love keeps the rules for other reasons than those which rules and rulers comprehend. Jesus is after a brother lost, a sheep who has strayed from the fold. He would carry that one home rejoicing. That is the end or goal of these “rules.” In any society we will rub shoulders with those whom it is hard to love. You might find such people in your own home, down the street, or rioting downtown every night. How shall I love that person and thereby keep the law? Jesus speaks of the healing between two people Paul speaks of the society at large. In all of this, we love one another.

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