St Paul’s final chapter is made up in large part of greetings to individuals whom he knows among the Roman Christians, or of whom he has heard.
That’s customary for letters of this period; but it is nonetheless interesting whom he has chosen to greet. Among them is Phoebe. She is almost certainly the person delivering the letter to the Roman church, and, consequently, is almost certainly the person who would have been charged with explaining its contents to its first readers and hearers. That’s pretty remarkable for the first century: Paul seems to have given the job of explaining his teaching and his theology to a woman. Somehow in the centuries since Phoebe delivered that letter and taught about its contents, Paul has gotten a reputation for being a terrible anti-woman chauvinist. But he could hardly have been more egalitarian – feminist, even – if he had worn the label for himself.
Then there is a long list of people with whom Paul has had more or less to do over the years – from Prisca and Aquila who risked their lives for Paul (again, note Prisca, the wife, is named first), right through to the delightfully named Asyncritus and Phlegon, the latter of whom was probably a slave, and whom Paul had probably only heard tell of.
One reason for Paul’s long list of greetings is that he doesn’t know the Roman church well, and the more individual members whose names he can invoke, the better his letter will be received. But another reason for greeting so many people is simply this: sending greetings to fellow Christians honours them, builds them up in faith, and lets them know they are remembered. In a world such as ours in which so many Christians are routinely forgotten or silenced, sending greetings as Paul does here can be like water in a parched and barren land. It can keep the spirits of our brothers and sisters in Christ alive to hear from us, and to hear that we care for them.
These devotions were originally written for the parish of All Saints, Ascot and we are grateful for permission to republish them on Fulcrum.
Patrick is curate of All Saints’, Ascot in Berkshire. A musicologist by training, he is married to Lydia, a university lecturer, and dad to Madeleine. He writes (sporadically) at benedixisti.wordpress.com and tweets (even more sporadically) as @patrickgilday.