Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, …Prisca and Aquila, …Epenetus, …Mary, …Andronicus and Junia, …Ampliatus, …Urbanus,…Stachys, …Apelles, …Herodion, …Tryphena and Tryphosa, …Persis, …Rufus, …Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters with them, …Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas…. Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my compatriots. I, Tertius, who am writing this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus the city treasurer and our brother Quartus greet you. (NET)
When I read this list I can’t help but think of the first days I arrived in Brazil in 1977. So many names I had never heard of before! I was used to names like John, Jim, David, Jane, Sally, Liz and so on. Now I had to learn new names I had never heard before, and not only that, but the nicknames that went along with them as well: Zé, Zí, Malu, Nando and so forth.
Perhaps the above list with so many strange names impresses you as well. But if you can see beyond this, you will find something quite extraordinary: Paul had many friends and they were intimate friends. And another thing: he knew that what was important in this life was relationships. Sure, theology is important. Biblical exposition is important. Very important. After all, he used alot of ink with sound theology and biblical exposition in this letter. But at the end of the day, relationships and friendships were also important. Why? Because the justification by faith which is the subject matter of the first eight chapters not only puts us in a right relationship with God, but it also estabelishes right relationships with our neighbor, for example, among Jews and non-Jews, the subject matter of Romans 9-11, and also among different people within the church, the subject matter of chapters 12-15.
Now it is important to understand that right relationships do not negatively refer to simply to those relationships that are not oppressive or egoistic. They also refer positively to relationships guided by love, the basis of all friendships (the two words, love and friendship, have the same root in Latin).
So, just as Paul greets his friends with such care, I want to greet each of you with the same love. Our friendship is very important and I miss you you when we are away for long periods of time. God bless you at this end of the year as we reunite with friends and family to celebrate the One who makes redeemed friendships possible, because the justice he brought about in us is manifest through our friendships.
I thank you, oh Father, for the reconciliation to you in Christ Jesus. I thank you for the reconciliation made possible with our neighbor that sprounts from this your work in us. In Jesus name. Amen.