You’re the only Jesus some will ever see – Tuesday, 31st week in ordinary time – Romans 12:5-16ab
If Christian love was expounded by St Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, then Christian ethics is expounded in Romans 12. Paul lists the mark of a true Christian community, one that is marked by “genuine love”. He makes a passionate plea when he asks the community in Rome to “let love be genuine, hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good”.
Paul was a realistic man; he knew the difficulties the Christian community faced. When the Jews and Jewish Christians had to leave Rome because of Emperor Claudius’s edict of 49 AD, the Gentile Christians were allowed to remain behind. This Gentile Christian community then developed its own independent identity from the Jewish Christians who on their return to Rome found a situation different from what they had left behind, when they were forced to depart. The Gentile Christians now felt no qualms about dietary and calendaric regulation. The tables of influence had turned and animosity had most certainly set in.
Paul wishes to set right the tone of love that should exist first among Christians themselves. If this love shines through, then those in Rome who held other beliefs and were observant of the behaviour of the Christian community would be easily influenced. The Christian was called to live a higher calling, bending his heart to ‘agape’ or an unconditional love but also in this situation to foster “phielo” or family love, for one another. He sets the bar high in calling the community members to outdo each other, not in hate as often happens, but in love. It is almost as if he is calling for a contest among Christians; who will be the one to outdo the other in love?
But this love is not some fairy tale romance; it must take on a practical approach especially in the “contribution of the needs of the saints and the extension of hospitality to strangers.” Perhaps Paul is calling on the more affluent community of Rome to care for the “saints” in Jerusalem, a community for whom he accepted a collection of money from the Philippians.
Finally Paul exhorts the community to be a witness to those who have not accepted Christ, this they must do by their very manner of life. It is the life of the Christian that bears witness to Jesus for a Christian’s actions are the ‘only Jesus’ some may ever see. Paul wants the Romans to bless those that persecute them, a persecution that Paul himself was no stranger to and one he bore joyfully.
Paul’s advice to us is a reflection of Jesus’ teachings, one that Paul himself adhered to. Paul reminds us as we read Romans, to emulate the Master, who as Paul states, “was not haughty but associated with the lowly”