Romans 12&13 Remixed: A Post-Inauguration Targum

On Saturday, February 4 I spoke at an event called “Faith and the Politics of Enemy Love.” We gathered to reflect on the call to subversive enemy love in the shadow of the dangerous reawakening of enemy hate in the administration of Donald Trump. What emerged for my presentation was a new ‘targum’ on Paul’s letter to the Romans 12 and 13.

 

Introductory Remarks

I wonder, my friends, what would Paul say? If Paul were writing to us, post the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States; in the shadow of a dangerous shift in world politics towards nationalism, identity politics, racism and xenophobia; indeed, this week, while the blood is being cleaned up from the floors and the walls and the bodies are being buried from the massacre in a Quebec City mosque … what would Paul say?

What would Romans 12 and 13 look like if it were written not to Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero, but this week to Christians living in a very different empire some two thousand years later?

When rabbis would stand up to read the Torah to diaspora synagogue congregations throughout the Roman empire, they would have to translate because Hebrew had already been lost for so many Jews. But they never translated straight. They did not understand meaning to be conveyed through exact and literal translation (that is a modern notion of translation). No, that would have been too reductionistic for them. Rather, they believed that the Torah was a living word, still speaking into every new situation. So their translations were also interpretations of the ancient text, an updating of the text, an attempt to allow the Torah to speak anew and fresh to a covenant people far from their homeland, living as strangers in a foreign land. Such translations were called tagrumin (the plural of the singular, targum) and many of them have been collected from over the years.

So what would it look like if we tried the same thing with Romans 12 and 13? What might a targum of this ancient Christian text written to Christians at the heart of the Roman empire sound like if it were written in the context of the imperial realities of the twenty-first century?

That’s what I want to try and do this afternoon in the context of this discussion of “Faith and the Politics of Enemy Love.” You see, Romans 12 ends with enemy love and, I think, Paul continues on the theme of such love as he proceeds into what has so often been misinterpreted as the state-affirming, politically quietist teaching of Romans 13.

Now it is also important to note that a targum is invariably longer than the original text. It has to be, because it needs to both explicate a lot of what would have been implicit in the original writing, easily grasped by the first hearers but likely lost on a later audience; and a targum tends to be longer because it also needs to bring the ancient text into conversation and perhaps conflict with later historical, cultural, political and economic realities.

And this particular targum, coming 3/4’s of the way through a sixteen chapter epistle, also needs to spend some time situating what Paul is saying in light of all that has come before. In other words, the targum needs to take some time to unpack something of what Paul means when he says “therefore” at the very beginning of our passage.

So here goes. Here is a possible way to hear hear St. Paul addressing us this afternoon in Meadowvale. And I offer this to you as if it were still in the voice of the apostle.

The Targum

Therefore, sisters and brothers, siblings in Christ,

if it is true that Jesus the Messiah is Lord,
and that no other leader,
or nation, or ethnic identity,
or institution or system of economics,
or political structure can demand your ultimate allegiance;

if it is true that the gospel of Jesus is truer, more radical,
and more transforming than any other
grand narrative or worldview on offer;

if it is true that the gospel of Jesus stands in stark opposition
to the “new decree” that was proclaimed on Inauguration Day
“in every city, in every hall of power, from this day forward,”
a “new vision … will govern our land, from this day forward,”
a vision of nothing less than “America first”;

and if it is true that while that gospel has been shamefully co-opted
by this false, arrogant and idolatrous ideology,
so that many of our siblings in Christ have
been taken captive by the anti-gospel
of an “America First” or “Europe First”
or the God-damning lie of ethnic and racial purity and superiority,
even granting that all of this is devastatingly true,
we nonetheless refuse to be ashamed of the gospel;

if it is true that this gospel has the power
to disarm all legitimations of violence,
to overthrow all scapegoating, all ethnic exclusion,
through the loving and inclusive embrace of Jesus;

if it is true that this is a gospel of radical justice,
rooted in the faithfulness of Messiah Jesus,
calling forth a covenantal faithfulness of those who will follow him
who will bow the knee or pledge allegiance to no other god;

if it is true that while we were enemies
God reconciled us, made us whole,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus,
that Jesus embodied enemy love on a cross,
and broke the deathly power of injustice by blowing apart the imperial grave;

if it is true that in this resurrection life
we are called to abandon all injustice
and present our bodies, every dimension of our lives,
as servants, instruments, tools, even slaves, of justice
regardless of the cost;

if it is true that God is taking a homeless
and divided people at the heart of the empire,
and calling them to be family,
to make a home of welcoming hospitality together
in the face of generations of enmity;

if it true that this restoring mercy of God
extends to all of creation,
still longing for redemption in the face of ecological devastation,
crying out under the burden of climate change,
waiting for the children of God to abandon an economics of extraction
and to take up a loving and regenerative stewardship anew;

if it is true that nothing can separate us
from the love of God in Messiah Jesus, our only rightful Lord;
neither death nor life,
not persecution, nor the surveillance mechanisms of the state,
not violence, nor unemployment or imprisonment,
not ridicule, nor terrorism;

if it is true that in a post-truth world,
the depths and riches and wisdom and knowledge of God is unsearchable;

and if it is true that in a world of Market supremacy
which glorifies brash displays of gold-plated opulence,
we stubbornly confess that all things are from God, through God and to God,
and that all true glory is God’s and God’s alone;

if all of this is true …

then I urge you with everything that I have,
I appeal to you,
I call out to you,|
in response to this radical, life transforming good news of Jesus,

to offer up your bodies,
not simply your piety and your devotional life
but your very bodies;

to offer up your bodies,
not your twitter account, nor your online signature,
but put your bodies on the line for the sake of the gospel;

to offer up your bodies,
not your arm chair punditry,
but the totality of your embodied existence;

indeed, to offer up your bodies,

the body of Christ,
the body-politic of the incarnate Word,
gathered here and there in cells of resistance,
assembled this afternoon in Meadowvale,
coming to worship the One who liberates in the face of oppression,
the One who embodies justice and calls us to
lives of his inclusive and costly justice;

… offer up your bodies as nothing less than a living sacrifice.

While you know that your whole economy is rooted in self-interest,
while you have heard from the most recent emperor
that we are to put our own interests and the interests of the nation first,
I call you to sacrifice those interests.

We are not called, dear siblings in Christ,
to sacrifice the most vulnerable in our world.

We are not called to sacrifice compassion
through the closing of our doors to the most vulnerable.

We are not called to sacrifice creational care
through the quick extraction, movement and sale of fossil fuels.

We are not called to sacrifice truth
for the sake of deceitful lies.

We are not called to sacrifice neighourliness
on the altar of ethnic and racial scapegoating.

We are not called to sacrifice generosity
before the false god of the Market
for the sake of the enrichment of the 1%.

We are not called to sacrifice justice
in the name of a violent patriotic nationalism.

No, my friends, if there is to be a sacrifice,
then, following the crucified One, we are it.

Indeed, without a discipleship of living sacrifice,
we make a mockery of the cross
cheapen the riches and depths of God’s mercy,
domesticate and tame the radicality of the gospel,
and tragically miss the meaning of the ‘therefore’
with which we have begun.

Living sacrifice.
That is the only appropriate response
to the all-encompassing mercy of God.

Living sacrifice.
That is the shape of true holiness.

Living sacrifice.
That is a life acceptable God, true to the call of the gospel.

And that, my friends, is spiritual worship.
That’s right, bodies offered as living sacrifices
is the heart of spiritual worship,
while bodies conformed to the consumptive patterns of this world,
can never be living sacrifices.

We are talking about spiritual worship,
but the question is, “which spirit?”

Bodies held in the self-interested grip of the spirit of this world,
bodies enamoured with ostentatious displays of wealth,
bodies preoccupied with images of success,
bodies driven to rage against the bodies of others,
bodies of insatiable consumption
are all bodies making the wrong sacrifices to the wrong god.

And they are not holy and pleasing to God,
and they are not very good candidates for living sacrifices.

So don’t be conformed, dear friends,
don’t be duped,
don’t be co-opted,
don’t be seduced.

Don’t be conformed to the spirits of this age,
the spirit of national exceptionality,

the spirit of “America First”,
the spirit of “law and order”,
the spirit of “national security”,
the xenophobic spirit of exclusion,
the violent spirit of winners and losers,
the militarist spirit of domination.

These are spirits of a debased mind,
these are the spirits of idolatry,
and they all require sacrifice:
sacrifice of care for the dispossessed,
sacrifice of the integrity of creation,
sacrifice of our neighbours,
sacrifice of the dignity of our bodies and our sexuality,
and sacrifice, make no mistake, of our children, of their future.

These are the sacrifices of this new age,|
these are the sacrifices that these false gods require.

But not you, my beloved, not you.

Refusing to be slaves of this present age,
refusing to offer up sacrifices
to the principalities and powers of the empire,
not taken in by the deceit of the powers that be,
resisting the rhetoric of war and violence
… we offer up our whole lives as living sacrifices,
subjects of the age to come,
subjects of the Kingdom of God,
subjects to Jesus, our messianic Lord.

No, my friends, we will not be conformed to the empire,|
but will be transformed by the Kingdom.
We will not have minds conformed to the reigning ideologies,
but will experience, in this praxis of living sacrifice,
nothing less than the renewing of our minds.
Our imaginations will no longer be held captive,
but will be set free, renewed, and liberated.

Renewed minds,
liberated imaginations,
for a restored creation,
for a discerning resistance,
for lives of justice,
for subversive hospitality,
for radical peacemaking.

Renewed minds,
imaginations no longer shaped by the dead end narratives
of progress, colonialism, civilization,
but transformed by the grand story of redemption.

Renewed minds,
rooted in the the story of Jesus, not Donald,
the story of creation, not America,

the story of love, not self-interest.

With embodied lives of sacrificial love,
a gospel spirituality permeating all of life,
and liberated imaginations,
we will be a people of discernment,
seeing just beyond the range of normal sight,
understanding the path ahead in these dark times,
discerning God’s will in the midst of the crisis,
knowing what side we are on and who our allies are.

That, dear friends, is what knowing the “will of God” is all about.

So this is no time to limit God’s will
to the piety of our personal lives.
We need to know what is good, acceptable and perfect
in the face of the depraved, blasphemous
and profane times that we are living in.

But not alone, dear siblings, not alone.

This call to bodies offered up in gratitude is a call to a body.

There are no bodies offered as living sacrifices,
without the body of Christ;
there is no spiritual worship,
without a renewed community in Christ;
there are no transformed minds,
without a faithful community
rooted in the Word of God;
there is no discernment of God’s good,
pleasing and perfect will,
without the church.

And let’s be clear that when I now say “body”,
I am talking about the body of Christ|and this body is a body-politic.

This is a body-politic embodying a story
in conflict with the dominant story of our age.
We are a body-politic
in contrast to the body-politic of the empire.

Let there be no mistake,
when we talk about the body of Christ,
this is a clear provocation in the face of the empire.

When we invite others into this body of Christ,|
we are calling them out of their embeddedness in the empire.

We are members of the body of Christ,
not the body-politic of our time,
and Jesus is our Lord and Saviour,
not Caesar or any of his contemporary doubles.

This  stuff is not about ‘me and Jesus.’
This is not to be limited to ‘my personal relationship to Jesus.’|
This is not about a solitary spirituality.
This is not to be limited to individual salvation.
And it certainly isn’t about your personal prosperity in Jesus!

No.
In the face of rampant individualism
and a narrowly personalistic piety,
I call you back to the body.

We are members one of another.

In the face on an identity politics
which wants to separate us from each other,
the body of Christ consists
of a beautifully diverse and inclusive membership.

In the face of the fragmentation and divisiveness of our times,
we are ‘re-membered’,
made whole and one,
through our membership in this body.

So if you want to find some sense of identity,
some sense of your uniqueness, or even your ‘individuality’,
then discern, with humility, what your place of service is in that body.

Indeed, you only have life in your membership,
and you only have membership,
in terms of that service that you provide to the body.

A liver that no longer serves the body will die.
A leg that is not exercised in carrying a body will atrophy and die.
A lung that no longer can receive oxygen for the body will die.

So let there be no illusion, my friends,
a body offered up as a living sacrifice to God,
that does not find its place in service of the body of Christ,
in service of this alternative body-politic,
is a body that will die.

This is no solitary spirituality that I am talking about.
That is too simple, too tame, too easily co-opted.

No, this is a call to community,
this is a call to the body of Christ.

So, in sober judgement, not haughtiness,
in sober judgement,
neither prideful over-estimation,
nor the false humility of a crushing low self-esteem,
in sober judgement
and in the midst of the community,
as members one of another,
discern the gifts that you have received
from the God of grace,
the God of gift.

These gifts are gifts of grace.
They are gifts to a body,
for the health of the body,
for the growth of the body,
for the body to fulfill its calling in the world
as nothing less than the body of Christ.

In this time of divisiveness we need to be members of the body.
And in this time of crisis, we need all the gifts that we bring
to be placed in service of the body of Christ,
not the dominant body-politic of our time.

And God has not left us without gifts for such a time as this.

Let me list seven such gifts:
prophecy,
service,
teaching,
encouraging,
giving,
leading,
and compassion.

These are body building gifts,
mind transforming gifts,
gifts that sustain a community of non-conformity,
gifts that shape an alternative body-politic,
gifts that engender a generous community of inclusion,
gifts that empower resistance,
gifts that equip us to be subversives in the empire.

You see …

There are no transformed minds without
the prophetic ministry of discerning God’s Word
addressing our ever changing situation.
We need prophetic discernment that
cuts through ideology and rhetorical smoke screens
so we can wisely discerns the times.

There is no living sacrifice without
a serving ministry in our midst and in our world.
The body of Christ needs
to be a discipleship school of service
especially to those most hurt and marginalized
by the regime of exclusion.

There is no antidote to the deceit and lies of the empire without
truthfully radical, profound and persistent teaching of the way of Jesus.
We need to reclaim and reimagine
what teaching biblical faith looks like
if our imaginations are to be liberated.

There will be no sustaining of a community in these times without
a ministry of encouragement in the face of discouragement,
anxiety and despair.
We will judge the health of the body by how well we foster a community
of gratitude and encouragement.

There will be no creating of a generous spaciousness
against the grain of our times
without 
folks gifted with and demonstrating
that kind of radical generosity in our midst.
In the face of a self-interested culture of greed and inequity,
we will engender a community of generosity of our money,
our time, our hearts, our lives.

There is no subversive and liberating direction
for the body of Christ without
diligent and visionary leadership.
While the world seems increasingly drawn
to the bravado of the strong, bully leader,
basking in his own power and arrogance,
we will follow and raise up servant leaders of quiet humility,
who will lead in the way of the cross.

And there is no hope for this body
against violent persecution and intimidation
without 
a joyful ministry of compassion
in the face of the deepest and most painful trials
that the body might face.
In the face of harshness, in the absence of the simple basics civility,
we will be a people of compassion, embracing the pain of our neighbours,
sharing their sorrow so we can be agents of hope.

Prophetic preaching,
service in the community,
teaching the faith,
encouragement,
generous giving
diligent leadership,
merciful compassion.

These are the gifts of this body,
and without these gifts this body doesn’t have a chance in hell.
Without these gifts the body of Christ is reduced to
an anachronistic society of piety at best,
or a handmaiden of empire at worst.

So let me get specific.

And lets begin by getting beyond a pious sentimentality of love.
If love is genuine,
if love is really willing to go the distance for the beloved,
if love is to be more than a second hand emotion,
then to deeply love, we must learn how to hate what is evil.

That means that love requires the naming of names.
Love does not play nice.
There is too much at stake for that.

If we are to love in a time of hate,
then we need to paradoxically hate that hate
and name it for what it is.

If we are going to love women,
we must hate misogyny.

If are going to love our Muslim neighbours,
we must hate Islamophobia.

If we are going to love the Indigenous peoples of our land,
we must hate colonialism, its persistent wound,
and how we remain the beneficiaries of those wounds.

If we are going to love our LGBTQ siblings,
we must hate homophobia.

If we are going to love the principle of self-rule, of democracy,
we must hate systems that disenfranchise voters.

If we are going to love generosity and equality
we must hate economic structures that willingly sacrifice the poor,
and a caste system that enriches the very few at the expense of the very many.

If we are going to love all of our neighbours,
regardless of race or ethnicity,
we must hate racism.

If we are going to love those who suffer displacement and injustice,
then we must hate the geo-political and economic-military forces,
who render whole people groups homeless and refugees.

If we are going to love kindness,
then we must hate forces of violence and torture,
whether they be ISIS or the CIA.

If we love our creational home,
then we must hate its destruction and rape.

You see, my friends, if love is genuine,
then we must hate what is evil
and hold fast to what is good.

And to do that we will need to be diligent in discerning the good.
That’s why we need prophets and teachers in our midst.

But it isn’t really all that complicated.
Real love hates what is evil, and holds fast to what is good,
by loving one another in mutual affection
and outdoing one another in showing honour.

The love that is manifest in the body
is a profound antidote to the discord and hatred
that has taken a demonic hold on our culture.

And while the competitiveness of a capitalist culture
amounts to little more than a war of all against all,
including a war on the very creational foundations of life,
we are called to a competition that subverts this culture.

While everything around us calls us to honour those who are the most powerful,
to pay homage to the “honourable member” from such and such,
“his worship, the Mayor,” or “your worship,” the judge in court,
and certainly to give honour to those who hold the highest
positions of state (especially when they come down golden escalators!),
the body of Christ sees all of this as bullshit.

The body of Christ is all about outdoing one another in showing honour,
especially those who are most dishonoured in society.

Associate with the lowly.
Walk with the oppressed.
Give without ceasing preference to the voices of the poor.

So replace exploitation with affection.
Replace the wanton extraction of creation with honour.

While the forces around you will wear you down,
while they will tell you in so many ways that resistance is futile,
do not lag in zeal, don’t give in,
hold each other up,
be a community of spiritual rejuvenation against the odds.

You will need to exercise the gift of encouragement
as if your life depends on it,
because your life does depend on it.

Yes, I know that this is a path of suffering.
This isn’t the easy way in these times.
But Jesus did bid us to a cross, didn’t he?
So remember who is your Lord.
Remember the path that he took.
Let the hope of his resurrection,
the hope of his coming Kingdom,
sustain you.
God has given you leaders who will show you the way.

And let this hope, facing this suffering,
animate your prayers.

Never give up praying friends.
Without prayer, we’re done for.

Remember generosity.
Care for the needs of the community,
but don’t stop there.
Extend hospitality,
to strangers as well.

If the powers that be will replace the open hand
with a closed fist raised in salute,
then you must be an open-handed community.
Your generosity and must be extended to all who are in need.

And if that way of living brings upon you persecution,
if trolls on line, vigilantes in the neighbourhood,
or the security apparatus of the state should come down hard on you,
then invite them in for coffee,
invite them to the potluck dinner,
ask them to share their story with you.
It may be that they will murder you
while you pray.

But it is better to bless them,
to open the hand to them,
so that they might be shamed of their hatred,
and perhaps converted to the way of love.

We are all about hating evil,
but we are called to the hard work of loving evil-doers.
And since we are all about blessing,
we do not call down curses upon our enemies.

And so we are a people who know how to party,
rejoicing with those who rejoice;
while also acquainted with grief and lament,
weeping with those who weep.

It may be that there will be more weeping for a while.
It may be that we will find ourselves at the side of the refugee,
separated from family, fearing deportation.

We may find ourselves with another mom,
lamenting a lost son.
And we will likely spend a lot of time in hospital rooms,
by hospice beds,
at funerals,
on the streets.

Weeping with those who weep,
exercising the gift of compassion.

But for those brief glimpses of shalom,
those times of joy,
those moments of healing,
those times of reawakened hope,
we will put on party’s of liberation,
dancing with our hands outstretched,
singing, “there’s a city, cross the river,
and it’s shining from within.
People are dancing on the ramparts,
beckoning to you, come on in,
to this city of refuge.”

And we’re looking to build that city.
That’s why we are seeking the peace of the city
That’s why we do not look for conflict, but for harmony,
on our streets, in our workplaces,
in the halls of power.

We aren’t looking for payback,
we know that path only leads to more misery, more pain.

We’re not claiming to be wiser than we are.
We’re not claiming to have all the answers.

And we sure aren’t looking for vengeance.
The justice that we seek has nothing to do with such vengeance.
Indeed, if there is to be any kind of vengeance in this life
or the next, then its up to God and is none of our business.

Yes, yes, I know the old line,
“Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says Lord.”

But that’s not the way we have learned from Jesus.
Rather, if your enemies are hungry, then feed them,
and if they are thirsty, give them something to drink.

Again, its a matter of not repaying evil with evil.
It’s a matter of perhaps shaming your enemy into abandoning the enmity.

I mean, isn’t there a better chance that your enemies
will cease being enemies if you invite them to a feast,
if you rain down food upon them,
if you come to them in their need,
if you offer them the grace of common humanity,
rather than raining down bombs upon their villages,
rather than “taking them out” with drones that kill in stealth,
rather than seeking to eradicate them from the face of the earth?

I know, I know, this sounds naive.
But here is a truth to hold on to in a post-truth world.

Here is a truth that Jesus embodied in his life,
and most profoundly in his death.

Here is a truth that gets about as close to rock bottom certainty
as you will ever find.

Evil never overcomes evil.
Violence never, ever ends violence.

And, “when you have ingested the poison of violence
even in a just cause,
it corrupts, deforms and perverts you.” (Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 198)

So dear friends, in these violent times,
in the face of enemies who will seek to overwhelm you,
remember this:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

You see,

Goodness is stronger than evil,
love is stronger than hate.
Light is stronger than darkness,
truth is stronger than lies.
Peace is stronger than war,
reconciliation surpasses revenge.

Now I know what you are thinking.

I can already hear the question:
what about the state?

I can already hear the objection:
aren’t we called to be a law-abiding people?

I know too well how you have interpreted my words on this matter,
I know that somehow I have been interpreted to say
that all Christians should obey the ruling authorities,
regardless of how violent, unjust and cruel those authorities might be.

Really?

Do you think that I could call
for such a radically alternative body-politic,
as I have just done,
and then in the very next breath somehow call for blind obedience
to the regime of the empire?

How could I call for total obedience to Lord Jesus,
and also require such obedience to Lord Caesar, or any other regime?

How could I call for blessing of our enemies at one moment,
and then require obedience to the war machine of the state in the next?

Or perhaps I should put the question on you.
How could you have ever read what I said in Romans 13
out of context of what I had just written in Romans 12,
and indeed in the whole letter?

How could you ever interpret my words as legitimating the rule of the empire,
when it was the empire that persecuted our people and put our Lord on a cross?

And how could you ever have read my words about the state
apart from how deeply rooted I am in both the Torah and the prophets?
Haven’t I been quoting these texts throughout my letter to you?

So listen up.

Yes, if we are to be the alternative body-politic that I am talking about,
then we have to seriously consider our relationship with the ruling authorities.

And here is my word to you.

Watch your back around the state.

It is true that we need peace, order and good government.
Maybe when law seems to only serve the powerful and the propertied,
anarchy has some appeal,
but anarchy ends up protecting no one.

No, my friends, while we grant no ultimate authority to the state,
because God is the final authority,
and while we know that wanton rebellion
is a recklessly dangerous path to take,
that calls for a quick and violent suppression,
we are wise to be careful around the state.

The state does, after all, bear the sword.
It may present itself as a benevolent force of law and order,
but the tazers come out pretty quick,
along with the stun grenades, tear gas,
and finally lethal force.

So if you get on the wrong side of the regime,
fear is a healthy response.

I know, I know, this seems to be contrary
to the subversive ethic that I’ve been talking about.
If we are called to be living sacrifices,
then why not take that as far as it will go,
and let ourselves be sacrificed before the violent state?

Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it in a minute.

But for now, listen closely to what I am saying.

The state has no self appointed divine authority.
Saying “God bless America,” is presumptuous and blasphemous.
All authority is rooted in the God of Messiah Jesus,
the very God that the empire rejects in its embrace of idolatry.
So rather than providing some sort of divine sanction of the state,
we need to demythologize the state and relativize its authority.

We need to be careful what we say here,
and what we don’t say.
And you, my friends, need to catch the irony.

While we might use the public transcript of obedience,
the subversion is there, just under the surface.
Submitting all governmental rule to the sovereignty of God,
we demote arrogant and totalitarian rulers.
But knowing that these are violent regimes,
we urge caution.

Choose your battles.
Yes, pay your taxes.
Indeed, while you are at it pay your bills,
and have a healthy fear for those to whom fear is owed.

And even though I have insisted
that we are to walk with the oppressed,
and that we are to turn all notions
of honour and prestige on their head
by bestowing honour on
those deemed shameful by the regime,
outdoing each other in honouring
those who receive no honour in our society,
nonetheless, give “honour” to those who think
that they are at the top of the heap.

But notice the “quotation marks.”
Notice the irony.
Notice the nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

So be careful with the authorities.
Don’t mess with the Homeland Security folks if you can help it.
Don’t cheaply bring the attention of the RCMP or FBI to your community.

This is no game.
Some folks really should be feared,
but don’t allow such fear to be the last word
on the way you comport yourself in this world.

Because while I’ve just counselled paying debts,
providing a certain level of respect to those who are due such respect,
and even a show of “honour” to those who think that they are owed such honour,
remember this:

Owe no one anything except to love one another:
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Not only do we need to relativize all authority,
subjecting it to the God of Jesus the Messiah,
so also do we need to relativize all law,
all judicial rulings,
all constitutions,
all executive orders,
by subjecting all law to the law of love.

There is another law that trumps all law.
There is another law that passes judgement on all law
regardless of which imperial seal that law bears.

According to this law, the only thing that we
most profoundly owe to one another is love.

And to make sure that no one misses the reference,
let me locate this law of love in the radical tradition of Torah.

The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not murder;
You shall not steal;
You shall not covet’;
and any other commandment
any other law that would be worthy of obedience,
are summed up in this word,
‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
Love does no wrong to a neighbour;
therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

This is how the gospel of Jesus undermines
the very foundations of all worldly systems of law.
All laws are judged by this law of love.

If love is the fulfilling of the law,
then any laws that call us to anything short of love,
any laws that set us in obligation to some at the expense of others,
any laws that would legitimate the oppression of others,
are judged by the law of love as null and void.

The law of love not only judges all other law,
it also legitimates civil disobedience to laws
that contravene the law of love.

If you need it to be any more specific,
then look again at those injunctions against
adultery, murder, stealing, and coveting.

While I may have had in mind the imperial regime of Nero
when I first wrote these words;
Nero’s bedroom where he would copulate with anyone that he liked,
Nero’s household established by the murder of Claudius,
Nero’s economy based on the pillaging of lands far and near,
and Nero’s empire of insatiable greed and expansion,
things haven’t really changed that much, have they?

Yes you have a system of law,
but it doesn’t seem to protect women from misogynistic violence,
it doesn’t inhibit state sanctioned murder,
it provides legal sanction for the theft of public resources for private gain,
and it serves to protect covetousness and greed as virtues, not crimes.

But what more would you expect?
I mean, you know what time it is, don’t you?
You know that the times they are a changing,
you know that “the night is far gone and the day is near.”

You know that time is up for this imperial house of cards.
You know that while we have heard
all the bravado of a new age,
a new day, of renewed strength, renewed greatness,
the truth is something very different.

You know that this too is an age of darkness,
this too is an age stuck in the night.

But you also know that this age is coming to an end.
It is darkest just before the dawn,
but the dawn is coming.

That’s what this whole story of Jesus has been all about.
That’s what time it really is.

It is time for the creatures of the dark in disarray
to fall before the morning light.
It is time for this endless night to give way to dawn.

What time is it?
It’s time to wake up.
Wake up from our culturally imposed slumber.
Wake up to what God is up to in transforming our world.
Wake up to live in the full light of the coming Kingdom.

What time is it?
It is time to put aside the works of darkness.

But if you are going to do that, my friends,
then you’ll need the ‘armour of light’;
you’ll need to clothe yourselves in this light,
because the forces of darkness will try to hold you down
with a strong arm up their sleeve.

What time is is?
It is time to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is what it means to wear the ‘armour of light’.

It is time to put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
it is time to be dressed in Christ,
to be transformed as the body of Christ,
to be precisely the kind of subversive body-politic
that we’ve been talking about.

This is no time for petty quarrels and dissension.
This is no time for the body of Christ to mimic
the debauchery of the empire.
This is no time for us to fall prey to sexual license
or a cynical drunkenness to numb our pain.
This is no time to be distracted by empty entertainment.

No, my friends,
the night is far gone, the day is near,
so live in the day.

Time is up for the oppressive laws of the state,
so obey the law of love.

Time is up for the empire,

so live in the Kingdom.

Time is already up for the newly inaugurated regime,
so put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

The night is far gone, the day is near,
and I know, dear friends, I know,
that it sure doesn’t feel that way most of the time.

I know that for many of us it feels like the night is endless,
and there is no day in sight,
no slight glimmer of dawn on the horizon,
not even the Morning Star is visible to you.

I know, I know, even the Morning Star can be hidden
in the clouds of despair and sadness,
blocked by the overcast of deep darkness.

But if you can see just beyond the range of normal sight,
if you can see with the eyes of faith,
if your imagination has been set free,
if your minds have been renewed,
if you can discern the times …

you will see against the grain of the times,
against the imperial evidence amassed against you,
you will see that the night is indeed far gone
and the day is near.

So, living in faith,
and embracing the politics of enemy love,
let us say to the darkness, ‘we beg to differ,’
and live as in the day.

 

 

 

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

4 Responses to “Romans 12&13 Remixed: A Post-Inauguration Targum”

  1. Andrew Stephens-Rennie

    I needed this, Brian. Thank-you for helping me hear the gospel afresh in the midst of a time that is at once confounding and paralyzing. These are energizing, prophetic words, and I’m grateful.

    Reply
  2. Pierre LeBel

    Dear Brian,

    This is just a short message to say how much I was personally moved by your message. I not only put it up on my FB page but also have forwarded the link to all of our YWAM Canada and some of our YWAM NA Cities Leadership. Few messages are so relevant to our time. Thanks ever so much for all the work that went into creating this targum and bringing Scripture to life.

    Peace and blessings,

    Pierre
    Coordinator
    YWAM Montreal
    http://www.jemmontreal.ca/en/home.html?lang=EN

    Reply
    • Brian Walsh

      Pierre: Thanks for your comment and for sharing this targum within the YWAM family. The nature of the “Mission” for something like YWAM, and indeed the whole church, changes in response to the particular principalities and powers of the time. If my targum makes a contribution to the discernment of the church in the face of the cultural and political crisis that we are in, then it has served its purpose.

      Reply
  3. Pierre LeBel

    Jim Wallis and Sojourners have created the Matthew 25 Pledge that I find coherent with your reading of Rom 12 & 13.
    https://sojo.net/articles/people-faith-are-pledging-protect-people-under-threat-trump-s-new-policies

    Reply

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