Posted by: Dan | September 6, 2006

Paul's Chains

Remember my chains.
~ Paul in the Epistle to the Colossians

I wonder, when I read this passage, how it is that we today remember Paul's chains. Do we remember Paul's chains and thank God that we are not persecuted for our faith or do we remember Paul's chains and wonder why it is that we fit so comfortably into the society around us? Do we even remember Paul's chains at all? Why is it that we are not struck by the oddity of the fact that Paul — who said such supposedly positive things about the state in Romans 13 and who wasn't afraid to appeal to his Roman citizenship when he found it to be useful — spent so much time in prison and ended up being executed by the Roman authorities? Sure, Jesus had to die to save the world, but what the hell happened with Paul?

Here's the thing: Jesus wasn't killed to save the world — nobody killed Jesus thinking “hey, I'll kill this guy and that way everybody who believes in him will go to heaven.” Perhaps God ended up using Jesus' death for greater things but none of Jesus' executioners were in on the plan. Ultimately, Jesus was killed because the political authorities identified him as a rebel — which is why he was crucified (crucifixion was the form of execution that Rome liked to use upon those who tried to rebel against her power). Furthermore, Paul's death, and his chains, were not accidental or incidental to his understanding of what it means to live as a follower of Jesus. Indeed, if one spends any time reading Paul, one quickly discovers that he seems to think that suffering, and specifically political persecution and oppression, is essential to the Christian identity.

Thus I remember Paul's chains and I wonder about our lack of chains. But then I remember the American Mennonites who have been jailed because they refused to pay taxes — because all those who pay taxes in America support the war in Iraq and these Mennonites felt that they could not, as Christians and as Mennonites, sponsor that war (or any war). Consequently they have been jailed. I remember the chains of Paul and I remember the chains of our Mennonite brothers and sisters and I still maintain hope for our North American church.

God, help us to remember Paul's chains. Help us to remember the chains of our brothers and sisters. Help us to remember the chains that await us if we end up faithfully following Jesus. And help us to find our current lack of chains to be shocking and odd. Convert us, Lord, to the type of life the ends up in chains. Ad majorem Dei gloriam — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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