Saturday of week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Rom 16:3-9, 16, 22-27

We come today to the end of the abridged reading of this great letter of Paul to the Romans.  Even four weeks of readings hardly do justice to it and many important passages have had to be omitted.  Some of them will appear in other parts of the Church’s liturgy.

In today’s final reading Paul sends his greetings to a large number of people.  Even though he has not yet been to Rome, he knows many of the Christians there as he had met many of them in his travels around Asia Minor and Greece. The first people on his list are Prisca and Aquila, whom he calls “my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus”.  They were not only partners with him in proclaiming the Gospel but also worked in the same trade of tentmaking.  He first met them in Corinth as the Acts tell us: “Paul left Athens and went to Corinth [in the south of Greece]. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus [in Phrygia, Asia Minor] recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla.  An edict of [Emperor] Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.  Paul went to visit the pair, whose trade he had in common with them” (Acts 18:1-3).  (Claudius is the same as he of “I, Claudius” fame.)

He expresses his thanks and that of all the Gentile churches for their having saved his life.  This was possibly during the riot of the silversmiths in Ephesus (Acts 19:23ff).   They had rioted because they felt Paul’s preaching would threaten their business of making silver images of Artemis, the goddess of the great temple in Ephesus.  Paul wanted to confront them but some of the disciples (including Prisca and Aquila?) persuaded him to stay away from certain trouble.

And he sends his greetings to the whole ‘church’ at the house of Prisca and Aquila.  At that early period, ‘churches’ or Christian communities in a particular place would meet in the house of a community member.  Church buildings would only come later when numbers got so big that family homes were no longer big enough.

There are also greetings to other members of the Roman church:

– Epaenetus, who is described as “the first offering that Asia made to Christ” and indicating that he is the first convert from the Roman province of Asia (now a part of modern Turkey).

– Mary, “who worked so hard for you”.  There are six different women called Mary in the New Testament but, apart from this reference, it is not known who this one is.

– Andronicus and Junias, described as “outstanding apostles” and “my kinsmen and fellow-prisoners, who were in Christ before me”.  They are “apostles” in the wide sense of active evangelisers and not in the strict sense used of the Twelve chosen by Jesus.  They also became Christians before Paul did and had also been in prison with him at some stage.  We know that Paul was imprisoned several times.

– Ampliatus, “my dear friend in the Lord”

– Urban, “my fellow-worker in Christ”

– Stachys, “my dear friend”

In the verses immediately following but not included in our reading, there are more names mentioned. Paul tells all to greet each other with a “holy kiss”.  Justin Martyr (AD 150) tells us that the ‘holy kiss’ was a regular part of the worship service in his day.  It is mentioned also at the end of the First and Second Letters to the Corinthians, in 1 Thessalonians and 1 Peter.  It still exists in some Christians churches, including the ‘Sign of Peace’ before Communion in the Catholic liturgy.  Some people do actually kiss or embrace. Finally, he tells the Romans that all the churches of Christ send their greetings.  This greeting, not found elsewhere in Paul’s letters, indicates a special respect for the church in Rome. This is followed by some final greetings from those who are with Paul.  One of these is from Tertius, who says he is the one committing the letter to writing as Paul’s secretary.  He is not mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament. There is a greeting from Gaius, who is Paul’s host in Corinth and who also “hosts” the whole of the local church, which meets in his house.  He is usually identified with Titius Justus, a God-fearer, in whose house Paul stayed while in Corinth.  His full name would be Gaius Titius Justus.

The last two greetings are from Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus.  At Corinth archaeologists have discovered a reused block of stone in a paved square, with the Latin insciption: “Erastus, commissioner of public works, bore the expense of this pavement”.  This may refer to the Erastus mentioned here.  He may also be the same person referred to in Acts as a companion of Timothy and in the Second Letter to Timothy.  Because the name was common, his identity is not certain. Paul closes the letter with a doxology of praise to the Father and the Son, although it appears earlier in the letter in some manuscripts or is omitted altogether.  It is a solemn presentation of the main points of the Letter. It is a prayer to God who can make the Romans strong in accordance with the gospel Paul preaches and following the proclamation of Jesus Christ and in harmony with that ‘mystery’ which had been kept secret for so long but which now, as the prophets foretold is now revealed.  This ‘mystery’ is God’s plan to bring salvation to the whole world through the Incarnation of his Son and his suffering, death and resurrection.  He wants them to be firmly grounded in the teaching he gave and firm in the living out of their faith.  And the gospel that Paul preaches is not something different but it is based on the direct revelation he received.

The idea of a ‘mystery’ of wisdom, long hidden in God and now revealed, is borrowed by Paul from the Jewish apocalypse but he enriches the content of the term by applying it to the climax of the history of salvation; the saving cross of Christ; the call of the pagans; to this salvation preached by Paul and finally the restoration of all things in Christ as their one head.

Jerusalem Bible (text references omitted)

This ‘mystery’ of the Gospel message, still known only to a relative few, is now to be proclaimed to the whole world – “to be made known to all the nations, so that they obey in faith”.

Lastly, the doxology proper:

“To him, the only wise God, give glory through Jesus Christ for ever and ever. Amen.”

God is the origin of all wisdom and so for ever is to be given glory through Jesus Christ.

What comes out of these greetings in both directions is the strong sense of fellowship and solidarity which existed among the early Christians.  It is something we need very much to cultivate in our very individualistic societies and, in some cases, very individualistic church gatherings.

This is needed too if we are to strengthen each other in our Christian faith.  A solitary Christian is a contradiction in terms.  It is not surprising that so many Catholics, left to their own devices, fall away and develop very distorted ideas of what their faith is about.  One way of correcting that is to go through the whole of this Letter carefully with the guidance of a good commentary.

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