Be excellent in what is good – Saturday, 31st week in ordinary time – Romans 16:3-9,16,22-27

Be excellent in what is good – Saturday, 31st week in ordinary time – Romans 16:3-9,16,22-27

With today’s text we bring to end our month-long study of St Paul’s letter to the Romans and the text of today sounds more like a pastors never ending thank you speech after a long Easter or Christmas mass. It has more than 28 names mentioned in the list not counting households and workers. On a personal note, I dread thank you speeches lest someone is left out.

In order to understand this passage today it would be helpful if one read the entire text of Romans 16. It contains a commendation, an extensive greeting list, two benedictions, final instructions and a doxology. From a scholarly point of view, and keeping scripture study in mind, this text has so many textual variations making these verses highly suspect, causing one to question whether they were part of the version that came from the hand of Tertius, Paul’s amanuensis (Romans 16:22). An amanuensis is a literary or artistic assistant, in particular, one who takes dictation or copies manuscripts.

There is much that one can say about chapter 16. Here is a grateful apostle to the Gentile who has not forgotten those whom cared and assisted him in his ministry. Here is a devoted servant of Christ who would not stop admonishing and warning “the hearts of the simple minded” (verse 18) of the dangers of “smooth talkers” who with flattery deceive hearts. Here is an ardent and faithful proclaimer of ‘his gospel’ (verse 25) who could not stop giving praise to God.

There are some curious lines and some consoling words in this closing chapter. At the end of the letter Paul speaks of “his gospel” (verse 25). There were many gospels abounding in first century churches. Paul warns about them in almost all of his letters. Of course, not all of them served the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Many of them lead people into error. Paul’s gospel however stands in the tradition of the prophetic writings. It is rooted in the promise found in the Old Testament and which is meant not only for the Jewish people but for all Gentiles, for all the nations. After having preached that Gospel in letter form rather than in person, Paul reasserts his position and authority of “my gospel.”

The letter also is a call to be excellent or as some texts read, “to be wise in what is good” and to be guileless in what is evil. The call to be excellent is a call repeated in various ways by St Paul in his letter. Sin (hamartia) is all about missing the mark. The mark of every Christian is to live a life of excellence. Anything short of that is good but not good enough! The spiritual life is a journey towards the excellent.

Paul has words of comfort too in his closing lines. Sin won’t have the last laugh, God does. Paul assures us that the God of peace whom we worship will soon crush satan. While God will crush satan, we will have the pleasure of doing it under our feet. This victory over sin is a ‘joint effort’. This is a reminder to all of us that sin can’t be crushed or eliminated on a human whim or fancy. Evil is strong but God is stronger and we have the assurance that satan is a defeated enemy.

Paul ends with a doxology; a hymn of praise. It appears as if Paul has taken a doxology that may have been known to the communities of faith he was familiar with, a doxology perhaps taken directly from their worship: “To God [to the only wise God], through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever! Amen!” As all classic doxologies, this blessing of God serves to frame everything that has gone before, admonitions, prayers, thanksgivings, etc. The doxologies name the one who is the source of all blessing, of all good things, the source of the work of the gospel. With all the dangers facing the Romans – and every church – Paul fittingly concludes by commending them to Him who is able to establish you. Paul also knows that this will be done according to ‘my gospel ‘and the preaching of Jesus Christ. Paul may use the personal possessive (my gospel) but it is clearly his only through Jesus Christ, through the One who reveals the mystery.

If there is anything that the Book of Romans explains from beginning to end, it is the greatness and glory of this plan of God that Paul preached as a gospel – as good news. It’s entirely fitting that Paul concludes this letter praising the God of such a gospel.

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