We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves; let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up. For Christ did not please himself; but, as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you fall upon me.” For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:1-7)
Paul concludes his letter to the Romans with words of encouragement. The spiritual life is frequently described as a battle. Paul reminds us that Jesus has won the battle for us; He has cleared the path for us to follow. Nevertheless, we are continually tempted to stray from the path. God through His grace (in particular through the sacraments and scriptures) encourages us to persevere in our journey.
Likewise, we do well to encourage each other. Those who are strong – who have a close, personal relationship with Jesus, who are filled with spiritual consolations, who are living righteously in God’s eyes – should support and encourage those who are weak, who are struggling with their faith in one way or another. Truthfully, we all stumble and fall at times on this side of heaven, and those who are strong today might be weak tomorrow, and in need of encouragement themselves. Courage (or fortitude) is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I like the word encouragement, of building up the courage of others. To encourage others is to share God’s grace with them. Conversely, to discourage others is a failure to love as Christ loves. Paul warns us, when we insult or discourage others, especially our brothers and sisters in faith, we insult our Lord.
Paul calls us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. Jesus invites everyone to the heavenly banquet, and He made a point of sharing table fellowship with the most marginalized members of society. He also called everyone to a conversion of heart by repenting our sins, embracing God’s mercy, and doing His will. Paul invites us to model the welcoming attitude of Jesus. If we do this, we will be able to think and live in harmony with one another, and with one voice sing praise to God, as is right and just.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is the Word of God. It is also a letter, written two thousand years ago from one person to a community of fellow believers and friends. Thus Paul discusses his upcoming travel plans in chapter 15 and sends personal greetings to many friends in the community in chapter 16. He concludes, as he does all of his letters, with a final doxology, a short hymn of praise to God:
Now to him who can strengthen you, according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret for long ages, but now manifested through the prophetic writings and, according to the command of the eternal God, made known to all nations to bring about the obedience of faith, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Romans 16: 25-27)
Image: Romans 15:7 (downloaded from dailyverses.net).