From Our Archive
Debie Thomas, "The God Who Isn't" (2020); Dan Clendenin, "What I Learned at the White House: The Parable of the Wedding Banquet" (2014) and "Give Up Your Worries, Give in to Joy" (2011).
For Sunday October 15, 2023
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year A)
Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
This Week's Essay
My essay focuses on the assigned epistle reading. For those preaching on the Gospel reading and seeking wisdom for Jesus' "hard sayings", see the excellent essays by Debie and Dan above. But even if you preach on the Gospel, I hope you'll consider including the story of Euodia and Syntyche in your homily.
Growing up in a rural community church, I learned most of my biblical characters through the flannel board. Winsome little paper cutouts brought to life some of the more child-appropriate biblical stories. But for all the care and dedication of my Sunday school teachers, I never learned the names of Euodia and Syntyche (pronounced u-o-dia and sin-te-che, respectively). These two women in the early Church get their sole highlight in St. Paul’s letter to their church community at Philippi, and it’s easy to glide right by them.
If Euodia and Syntyche get discussed by us at all, it’s usually to note that they both were at loggerheads. Some kind of doctrinal or church leadership disagreement had formed between them, and Paul is providing pastoral advice in our epistle for how they should deal with it. The letter carrier is someone Paul is sending in his stead to assist them towards reconciliation and unity.
When we hear or read Paul say, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord,” it is tempting to think that Paul is exemplifying the Nike philosophy: just do it! Just choose to be of the same mind. Stop thinking about yourself and focus on your sister in Christ. But we all know that’s not really how we work. Differences of perspective, hurtful words, past traumas, and our own weaknesses make letting things go quite difficult.
Thankfully, Paul doesn’t go in for the Nike slogan. He wants Euodia and Syntyche to be fully unified in their ministry at the Philippi church, and his pastoral approach to getting them there is a marvelous model for all Christians. First of all, Paul addresses them in ways that both show his gratitude for them and calls them back to who they are in Christ. He tells his letter carrier to “help these women since they have contended [or labored] at my side in the cause of the gospel.” These are women who have been “co-workers” in evangelism and upbuilding as much as any man Paul names in his letter, such as Clement or Epaphroditus. There’s no hint here that Paul thinks of Euodia and Syntyche’s role in the church as any less.
Further, Paul makes clear that these are women “whose names are in the book of life.” They are fully blessed by God and taken up into Christ’s mercy. Paul’s focus is not to comment on the status of their salvation, but to model for these two women and their mediator how they should view each other. Think of our own divisions today to see the application. In many English-speaking churches in the West, Christians are falling out of fellowship with each other over politics, partisan loyalty, doctrinal legalism, and a defensiveness of church power. I’m still lamenting the ongoing split within the Methodist communion. Why aren’t we overcoming our disagreements to have the same mind in Christ?
Well, often it’s because we’re not looking at each other as people whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Often, we’re secretly assuming that the people with whom we disagree are not even real Christians. How differently might we approach our quarrels if we internalize first that our “antagonists” are co-workers in the labor of the Gospel, as infinitely valuable to Jesus as we are. Paul is softening Euodia and Syntyche to have more Christian love and affection towards each other.
Paul’s letters always function as organic wholes, with each part relevant to every other part. His pastoral counsel for their disagreement is not confined to the brief sentences where he addresses them directly. His admonition for them to be of one mind is rooted in the liberating theology he lays out in the letter as a whole.
Our capacity to reconcile with each other and become the unified Body of Christ as the Church is rooted in the freedom that whether or not we prevail in any earthly disagreement, the grace of God in Jesus will always have the last word on our life. In Philippians 3.7-11, Paul contends that gaining Christ has given him a hope of such tremendous value that he considers every aspect of his life outside of the Gospel mere refuse. By trusting his life to Christ and participating in his suffering and death, Paul trusts that he will be raised completely into Christ’s resurrection life. If so, does it really matter whether we’re right about some particular dispute on, say, social media? Everything else is counted as loss!
Not that Paul is for a moment advocating that we ignore this world and its problems. To the contrary, Paul is showing how Christ has set us free to do the work at hand in the here and now! He says in Philippians 3.19–21 that while some people set their minds on earthly things,
Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Our citizenship is in heaven, not so that we can ignore earthly things, but so that, unlike those whose “god is their stomach,” we are not anxious to defend our earthly things: our turf, our money, our pride, our status, our rights. Having our citizenship in heaven means we are entirely free to give all that we have to serve others on this earth. We no longer have to defend ourselves, for we have been given all things in Christ.
Viewing Paul’s pastoral counsel to Euodia and Syntyche in the light of Paul’s Gospel message, we see him showing these two women that being the one who is right is no longer their concern, because Jesus has already won the complete victory in his death and resurrection. Christ is already right so that we don’t have to be. We’re free to lay down our defenses and simply love one another as Christ first loved us.
Such freedom underwrites Paul’s subsequent exhortations to Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, and the rest of the church. “Rejoice in the Lord always” — not as work where we force ourselves to be constantly happy, but as a resting posture knowing Christ has triumphed over all the evils and snares that surround us. We can “let our gentleness be evident to all” because “the Lord is near.” Paul says to let go of all anxiety, again not as a command that we have to try really hard to achieve, but as the liberating recognition that it is the peace of God that “guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
And so he tells the parishioners of the Philippi church — and ourselves with them — that everything true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, every excellent and praiseworthy thing, is for us. Why fight with our sisters and brothers about transitory temporal matters when we can instead fill our hearts and minds with all the truth, goodness, and beauty that God has poured forth into the world?
We’re all Euodia and Syntyche with someone. As we wind down Ordinary Time and prepare to enter a new Christian year with the Advent season, let us set about to resolve our disagreements with other Christians. Figure out who it is you can’t see eye to eye with, and remember that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life next to Euodia and Syntyche. Remember that they are your co-laborers for the Gospel. Commit to having the same mind with them in Jesus. You don’t have to be the one who is right, and neither do they, for Christ died for you both, and will raise you together, arm-in-arm, on the last day.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
"All the women in my life are hungry"
I have written this one hundred times
I do not know how else to tell it
how to write
the girl by the roadside
the bruised peach
the narrow collar
the night full of birds
Her body is a long river
that cuts through every room
see her in the kitchen
see her standing behind the gate
see how she cups her hands
for sweet milk
where do I put her?
this girl pressed against the border
this girl swallowing her papers whole
this girl bird-wailing through a fence
See her hands
holding the broken saucer
stitching the skirt’s hem
cradling the last orange
begging the names of God
Where do I put her?
Tell me what is owed
the fist of hair
the cut of lip
split like fruit
Who will take her?
this throat full of ghosts
Sarah Lubala is a Congolese-born South African development worker. Her poetry has appeared in Brittle Paper, The Missing Slate and Prufrock.
Michael Fitzpatrick welcomes comments and questions via firstname.lastname@example.org