Friday, May 28, 2010

Risking One's Neck

Although I write about stuff like this all the time, my recent ramblings on risk have not been enjoyable or satisfying. Perhaps part of the reason involves my penchant for trying to appear as though I have a command of the subject about which I’m writing, while deep down I suspect I’m not fooling anybody. Another reason involves my struggle with contemporary, conventional evangelical culture, in which I would be much more accepted and befriended, if I didn’t have so many problems with it!

A lot of cynics get labeled unrepentant pessimists because we refuse to conform with the myopic, generally-accepted standards the rest of a society or peer group embraces. We’re shunted to the side as troublemakers, pot-stirrers, and impediments to progress. And some of us are just those things.

Maybe it’s my own pride and self-deception, but I like to hope that the way I think has its benefits, even if conventional evangelicalism doesn’t want to see it that way. Part of my mindset has to do with the fact that I’ve always been a social misfit, to one degree or another, only in the church, other people are supposed to love me anyway. But it’s a two-way street, isn’t it? How much love and grace do I exemplify by the way I write, talk, and share my opinions? Not that just because I may be right gives me license to run roughshod over people who have yet to see the light in my viewpoint.

Which is why, even though I had told myself that Wednesday’s essay was enough for the risk topic, I’ve decided to broach the subject at least once more today. Well, that, and the fact that the totally random Bible passage I read this morning had the word “risk” emblazoned across it.

Thy Neck Sticketh Out

In Romans 16:1-16, the apostle Paul sends greetings to members of the Roman church, including Priscilla and Aquila, the tentmakers with whom Paul occasionally worked. He says in verse 3 that “for my life [they] risked their own necks…”

“Hmm…” I thought, as the verse kept slapping me in the face… “Why hasn’t this dawned on me before?” After all, I’ve known about Priscilla and Aquila since childhood. But for some reason, the fact that they risked their lives for Paul never hit home for me, until today.

Whenever somebody tells you to keep re-reading familiar passages of scripture, do it! I’m constantly amazed at how much stuff God tucks away in these holy texts.

After a quick Google search, I determined that nobody knows what sort of danger Priscilla and Aquila actually endured for Paul. And I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway, otherwise Paul would have told us. The way he writes it, I can’t tell if he assumed the Roman church would know what event he was referencing, or if he simply wanted to clue them in as to the intimate value he held for them – after all, if somebody I knew risked their life for mine, we would have a unique personal bond thereafter, wouldn’t we?

Speaking of personal bonds – and things that hadn’t ever struck me before in the Bible – Paul also sends greetings to a relative of his in Rome, Herodion. He also sends greetings TO Rome from Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, relatives of Paul in Corinth, from where his letter to the Romans was written. I’ve always thought of Paul as a solitary figure, but he obviously stayed connected to his extended family.

Losing Your Life

But anyway; back to Priscilla and Aquila. Let’s not delve into suppositions and extrapolations on what, why, and how they did what they did for Paul. Let’s just allow the fact to sit by itself; that they risked their lives for Paul.

I’ve never risked my life for anybody before. Have you? I’ve tested the low limits of my reputation, employment, friendships, and finances, but never to significant degrees that could be called risk, and certainly not my life. And obviously, not many people risked their lives for Paul in the way Priscilla and Aquila did, otherwise he either wouldn’t have mentioned them, or he’d have included them in the longer list of his mortality benefactors. (Since I’ve already proven I’m don’t have an encyclopedic mastery of Bible references, I searched Google for other people who Paul may have similarly referenced, and didn’t find any).

Some commentators use the word “risk” here to say that believers should risk something for the kingdom, which of course isn’t a false statement.

But somehow, when Paul says a husband and wife almost died because of their friendship to Paul, I think something more significant happened than them just giving up comforts, other friendships, or good jobs.

This event involved their mortality.

Earlier in the Gospels, Christ says that people who try to save their lives will actually lose them (Luke 17:33, John 12;25). So we should not avoid risk simply because we might get injured, or suffer some sort of loss. But does that mean any risk is OK? Is speeding around Texas Motor Speedway in a Corvette an acceptable risk? (remember, that's where this all started...)

Christ isn't talking about living life in a bubble, is He? And He's not talking about getting one's kicks from thrill rides either, is He? Aren't Christ and Paul - albeit by inference from the Romans passage - telling us that if we're going to take risks, we'd better be sure they're worth it?

It doesn't sound like Priscilla and Aquila were taking Paul's place in the Corvette as it sped around the track, does it?

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