Saturday September 10

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Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. — Phil. 4:1-7 (NRSV)

There’s something about reading through old letters and cards. They bring up so many memories of experiences and conversations long past but which return to freshness in the mind when something happens, like reading those old letters, that accesses the file in the brain containing those memories. To anybody else the card from M might be amusing but in the context of an old friendship, it has a bit of hilarity that makes me laugh every time I see it or think of it. Stuff in the letters tell stories that bring back the sights, sounds, even smells and tastes of things we did together. Those memories are important to me, especially those from those with whom I will never share another memory.

The trouble with letters and cards, though, is that they only reflect one side of the story. The ones that mean so much to me will mean just about nothing to my son when the time comes for him to clean out what I haven’t been able to throw away. Names may be familiar, places might be, but beyond that, zip. The context has been lost. Even one generation away from another can make the difference between being on the inside of the joke and being left wondering why others are laughing. That’s sort of how I feel about Paul’s letters. I can understand part of it but most of it just sort of goes over my head.

From this part of the passage, I figure there’s something going on between Syntyche and Euodia. It sounds sort of serious–but what? Paul admits that they have worked with him and need to come to agreement on something. Somehow it sounds more important than whether to use the linen tablecloth or the red-checkered plastic one, the good china and silver or Chinet™ and plastic forks, roast beef or pulled-pork barbecue. What is interesting to me, though, is the idea that women and men worked together in Paul’s group. Paul acknowledged this, ascribing to them and others a place in the “book of life” for helping to spread the gospel in an often hostile environment. At any rate, Paul must have felt enough regard for them and their work to want Syntyche and Euodia to be able to work together as a team. He couldn’t be there in person to help heal the situation so he actually asked another co-worker to help mediate between them. I wonder if the problem ever got solved?

I wonder too why so many have a problem with women being co-workers in ministry outside of Sunday School teachers, church-cleaners and organizers of Vacation Bible School and children’s pageants. I mean, if Paul could acknowledge their role as co-workers, what’s the deal? Why base a theology of exclusion on a few verses from some Pauline letters while verses from other Pauline letters reference women, calling them by name and acknowledge their gifts, dedication and service. Context is everything, and we don’t have CNN or MSNBC to give us a clear (or even slanted) view of current events. So who (or which) are we to believe? Will the real Paul please stand up?

It would be fascinating to know what the behind-the-scenes story was. It feels like such unfinished business, but Paul says what he needs to say and then proceeds to the conclusion and benediction. It’s frustrating, but that’s what we have to live with.

I guess there is a benefit to old letters, even if some of it does keep us guessing about what it was really all about, who the players were and what their roles were. I doubt my old letters will have any such questions asked about them, much less after nearly 2ooo years. Heck, I doubt that after one year anyone will care. But then, I’m not Paul, and I’m not an evangelist working in the field, building congregations and communities of faith in far-off places and with a dedicated cadre of co-workers, male AND female. And context IS everything.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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