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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, October 11, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Timothy 2:8–15

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth. (NRSV)

Prison in Rome was a unique experience. In the first century C.E., Rome had a population of over one million, and there was only one prison, the Tullianum. It was small, generally reserved for important people. If you were, say, the king of the Gauls, you would be brought back to Rome in chains, paraded around during the victor’s triumph, and then thrown in the Tullianum. There you might be kept alive for a bit in the damp, rat-infested cells, dragged out periodically to demonstrate the supremacy of the state, but once you outlived your propaganda shelf life you soon reached the end of your physical life.

Nobodies didn’t go to prison in Rome. If you were imprisoned, if you were in chains, it was a sign that you were considered important. The Tullianum was the last residence of both Peter and Paul.

“But the Word of God is not chained.”

Paul knew that chains meant you were a threat and had to be controlled, paraded around to demonstrate power. And that’s not how the word of God is to be used. The word of God is not restricted, the word of God is not under compulsion, the word of God is not servant to human authorities.

And yet humans keep trying to chain it. They loop their interpretations around it and pull the knots tight and try to haul the word of God out to enhance their own power, to show off their status. You never have to look far to see someone trying to force the word of God to serve their purposes.

But the word of God—the wonderful, powerful, subversive word of God—the word that says that God loves the lowest, the least, and the lost as much as the proud and mighty, the word that says love your neighbor as yourself, that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, that word is not chained and subjugated by humans. And that thing you see people parading around to show how godly they are? Maybe it’s not what they want you to think it is.

Lord, thank you for your word, the word that upsets order and confounds the powerful. Teach us to follow it and find freedom. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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