There’s a lot of talk these days about authority and the law. We see around us everyday people questioning those in rule over us and how we should respond to decisions being made on our behalf or on behalf of our fellow human beings. We have observed people being discriminated against, people unfairly imprisoned or mistreated and most recently a mass number of people being separated from their families and kept in what amounts to cages. What are we as the church to do with all of this? How do we respond to things that at best make us uncomfortable and at worst violate every sense of who we believe Christ has called us to be? We especially struggle when read in scripture verses like these from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome and it becomes quite the quandary, “Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God.” – Romans 13:1 How do we place ourselves under the authority of others when we feel that the law or the inaction of it has become unjust?
I suppose the discussion needs to begin with what we consider to be unjust. Do the laws that we believe are there to ensure our safety come at the expense of others? Should the law which we strive to place ourselves under be girded under by compassion as well as grant us the semblance of security? As people of faith, I would daresay that perhaps safety and security might be our last concern and compassion become our first. The theological forefather of my tribe is John Wesley, an Anglican priest who became the father of Methodism. In his general rules for his guiding societies of the movement that would come to be Methodism, and later give rise to the Church of the Nazarene, we find them beginning in this fashion, “First: By doing no harm…”. As Christians, seeking to become Christ’ presence in the world we should begin every interaction in the world with this thought in mind; by doing no harm.
So do we continue to be complacent when it comes to the plight of those at our Southern border? Do we continue to be silent on issues of racial and wealth disparity that continue to plague our inner cities at an increasing rate? Do we continue to just live and let live while passing by our neighbor beaten and bleeding in the ditch on our way to fulfill our religious obligation while remaining obedient to the law of the land? A lot of people like to begin reading the beginning of Romans 13, but don’t continue, forgetting that Paul was eventually put to death by the very government he subjected himself to, “Don’t be in debt to anyone, except for the obligation to love each other. Whoever loves another person has fulfilled the Law. The commandments, Don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t desire what others have, and any other commandments, are all summed up in one word: You must love your neighbor as yourself. Love doesn’t do anything wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is what fulfills the Law.” – Romans 13:8-10 Love is what fulfills the law. The subjecting to authority dealt specifically with civil obedience particularly to paying taxes and contributing to the well being of society in general. But the law of love trumps all other laws, particularly when it comes to our neighbor. And I think we all know who our neighbor is when it comes to the world today, “Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho...” May we find ourselves living out the law of love for the sake of the Kingdom which knows no class, no race, no borders, no definition beyond that of Christ.