‘Say hi to Rufus for me!’ (Romans 15-16)
December 20, 2010
I love Romans 15-16. It brings to an end the first letter from Paul that we read in the New Testament and though I have a bit of sense of achievement from getting through my first epistle, that’s not why I like it so much. Chapter 15 ends with promises of a trip to Rome and then in chapter 16 we get the personal greetings Paul sends to members of the Christian community as well as greetings sent by Christians in other places to the Romans. At first, like the many genealogies in the Bible, this can seem like an irrelevant list, something to be skim read so we can get on to the good stuff. But this is not true for the genealogies and neither is it true for these words of greeting.
I love this more personal, more specific ending of Paul’s letter because it reminds me that this was a real letter sent to real people who, like us, were grappling with the Big Questions and striving to live in Christ with each other. What’s more, we get a glimpse of Paul, not as some lofty orator whose voice bellows from the pages of a scripture, but as a real person, with relatives and friends and, dare I say it, favourites.
Let me pick out a few greetings that especially broadened my smile:
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Paul, often quite a lone figure in the New Testament, had relatives, had people whom he had suffered with and, more importantly for me, whom he looked up to. Paul’s writing can sound a little arrogant here and there, like in 15:1 when he says “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak “. (Alright mate, get over yourself!) This, among other things, can lead some to dismiss him out of hand, but I like that in chapter 16 I can see that Paul had people whose words were important to him, who were “in Christ before him”. Conversely, I think that’s also important to remember as sometimes Paul can be held up as the ‘ultimate Christian’, but he too held others in high esteem.
This is also highlighted in 16:13: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also.” Anyone who’s seen Dogma will know why I especially like the mention of Rufus ‘chosen in the Lord’ (it’s just a joke, don’t get your knickers in a twist!). But I also like that there was a Christian woman who mothered Paul. Again this is because Paul doesn’t always read like someone who would let himself be mothered very much, but also because it reminds me that a church, the Church, is at its best when it’s a family.
And it’s worth mentioning that Junia and Rufus’ mother and also Pheobe who is a commended in 16:11 (I assume she delivered the letter?) are all women (there are probably more, I’m not very good with guessing the gender of names). Horrah! It’s nice to see that whatever sweeping statements Paul occassionally makes about his sisters in Christ, he actually rates many of them very highly indeed.
But the reasons above are in way too complex (I know, they’re not very complex, but bear with me), because what I really love is that Paul ends his letter like so many of us would. “say hi to Rufus for me, remember me to his mum, say hi to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas and Hermas”. Okay, I’ve never written to anyone called Asyncritus or Phlegon either, but you get the picture. I just love to imagine this network of early Christians, who knew and loved each other and of whom Paul was a part. When I think of him this way he becomes more relatable and so does his writing.
And what writing it is, say what you like about the guy but he can sign off a letter like nobody’s business. So I’ll think I’ll leave this one to him:
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 26but 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— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.