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Speaking to the Soul: The Governing Authorities

Speaking to the Soul: The Governing Authorities

5 Easter, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

 

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 72 (morning) // 119:73-96 (evening)

Wisdom 13:1-9

Romans 13:1-14

Luke 8:16-25

Today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to clamp down on all forms of civil disobedience. Paul asks all people to “be subject to the governing authorities,” declaring that all institutions exist through God. The passage goes on to justify the government’s right both to use violent force and to collect taxes. (Thus, a range of people are likely to find Paul’s politics offensive.) When it comes to the sword and taxes, Paul reasons that “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed.”

Christians in the first few decades after Christ were under a great deal of pressure to present themselves as non-threatening to the Roman Empire. I believe that this brief excerpt from Romans responds to that pressure. We can hear similar voices today from marginalized people urging one another to comply as diligently as possible with every letter of the law, or with people who have the right to use deadly force, as the safest path to salvation from deportation or wrongful death.

Although Paul speaks with a voice familiar among fearful citizens or immigrants in a powerful empire, it is clear that he does not mean to justify abuses of power. He explains what he means by an “authority”: “it is God’s servant for your good.” Similarly, Paul asks his readers to pay their taxes because “the authorities are God’s servants.” We comply with and support authorities and institutions because they serve God and work for our good.

The Christian life suggested by Paul is much more complicated than either utterly submitting to the governing authorities of this world or toppling all of our institutions. Rather, our work is to submit our institutions to God and to bend them toward the common good. Be they corporations, police forces, schools, or cathedrals, these manifestations of earthly authority have a God to serve and a good to offer. They mediate our love for our neighbors. Let’s enter into the thick of that life today, shaping the many institutions of our lives into better servants of God and others, however we can.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps  program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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