These days it is not hard to imagine how devastating it must have been to watch Jesus walk the path of shame accused by the sword of Caesar. A system that believed law and order brought justice and believed death at its hand was good news. Justice was being carried out and peace was restored through death. The myth of Redemptive violence.
The book of Romans gets used to justify law and order, and many believe it is holy work. Good news because there will be law and order again once this person is crucified. Make America Great Again. Think Romans 13. To take one passage and not know the whole context has kept Rome alive to this day. Paul was not for Rome. That letter was not written to Roman officials but to the no-bodies in Rome.
Just look at the beginning of the letter in v. 1:3–He calls Jesus Son of God. That is countering Caesar as Son of God. He was declared Son of God at his resurrection. The resurrection revealed who he was, not his death. The good news does not lie in his death, according to Paul. The death of our bodies is not good news either. Spiritually or physically.
Paul says to follow Jesus Christ, not Caesar. That seems more important to me than whatever he was trying to do in Romans 13 that government officials have used throughout time and it has only brought death. It was used to justify the holocaust in the past and the caging of migrant children in our time by our own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
How we read scripture matters. Taking a few verses and making our own meaning from them is how nationalism is developed. Building an empire where there is a need for an enemy, an other, to survive. It comes with an ambiguous relationship with history and truth to build that myth and national origin story.
A sick system cannot produce life. We have to reckon with the sin of the system where there has been no law to be able to reckon with it (5:13). Making both sin and salvation an Individual quest is far more problematic than I realized. If it is not communal salvation, then there is no salvation. Same when we punish individual people for the Sin of the system. It is the system. When we do punish individual people, it is never Caesar’s head that is going to roll.
Paul was not a 20th-century individualist.