Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, to all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. — Romans 1:1-7
At this time of year I muse on the beginnings of the various writings about Jesus Christ. Each evangelist has a different way in to the story, and how they begin definitely shows how they mean to proceed. John locates Jesus in the cosmic order. Matthew reveals him as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel. Mark begins the story with John the Forerunner. And Luke’s narrative from the very beginning has a social justice bent.
Each of these accounts is precious to me, for they were written by human beings whose lives had been completely transformed by this Jesus about whom they were writing. Their hearts were his, and they were trying to explain why — trying to show us what that meant — as much as they were writing about him.
It makes me wonder how I would write the story. In writing my account, what would I emphasize? Which tales would I string together, and how would I do it?
The beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans is as important to an understanding of Paul as the beginnings of the gospels are to understanding each of the evangelists. He lays out in a single, long and convoluted sentence who he thinks Jesus is, who he believes himself to be in relation to this Christ, and who he thinks that we are.
Paul tells us that he is a slave and an apostle, a messenger sent to reveal and to teach. He is set apart for the gospel of God. His entire life, in which he worked hard to become a righteous Pharisee practicing the law assiduously, set him apart. And then Christ called him, setting him apart even further, into service to the gospel.
And what is this gospel? It is the good news promised through the holy writings of the Jewish people and proclaimed by the prophets, the news about Jesus. For Paul, Jesus is the fulfillment of centuries of longing. He is the embodiment of the fulfillment of scripture. In the ways the world has of seeing, he is the son of David. From the point of view of the “spirit of holiness” he is the Son of God.
When I read all the New Testament authors who try to write about Jesus I get a sense that they are trying to describe something that cannot be put into words, something that transcends all boxes. They tell the story, hoping that, through their relating of incidents and teachings, we will see. With Paul it is the same.
But the story is just the beginning. The theology is just the springboard. What really matters is the relationship the writers have with the Son of God — their direct experience of Christ — through prayer.
For who are we? According to Paul, we are those who have been called to belong to Christ. We’re those who will not be whole until we come into relationship with Jesus. We are called to be saints.
With the birth of Jesus our own birth into our spiritual identity becomes possible. The moment when God enters history is our moment as well. We were made for this. We were created to be in prayer, to open ourselves, intentionally and all the time, to the living presence of Christ.
We have a lot to celebrate. And, as Christ’s servants, we have a lot to do.
Grace to you and peace
From God our Father
And the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen
Image from Wikimedia: Probably Valentin de Boulogne