By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Romans 16:17-27
17 I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who create dissensions and hindrances, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18 For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19 For your obedience is known to all; therefore, I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
21 Timothy, my coworker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my fellow Israelites.
22 I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus greet you.
25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
To be a Christian is to be a peaceful warrior. That wonderful oxymoron is latent in the “God of peace” who nonetheless “crushes Satan.” Yet the Lord does not act apart from our human agency, for it is not under the divine feet that Satan is crushed, but under ours. How so?
First, by our being wise as to what is good and guileless as to what is evil. This is virtue ethics 101. We’re to be people of good judgment who are not taken in by the deceits of evil. The Christian can never say, “I was just following orders.” For we serve the Lord Christ foremost, not the powers and principalities of this world.
Second, Satan is crushed under our feet when we don’t get tangled in dissensions and when we avoid unnecessary strife. Our conversation in the Episcopal Church, and in much of the Church more broadly, is saturated with welcome. Welcome is good. It is also worth remembering that, even as God welcomes us, God does not welcome all of our behavior. St. Paul is speaking about those who are actively creating partisan strife and confusion as to the good news of Jesus. The discrimination is not concerning who they are as people (God is no respecter of persons), but what their hearts are set on: “They do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.”
Our constant vigilance is required to ask, first ourselves and then each other, who it is we are really serving. We are to be faithful to Christ as opposed to any particular party — whether political, ideological, or theological. Only then can we achieve the obedience through which the judge of all the earth will crush Satan underfoot.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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