What they fear

May 23, 2011

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The Areopagus--the former location of the Athenian
equivalent of the Roman senate--was a center of civic life. The name comes from
"Ares," the Greek god of war, and "pagos," which means "hill" or "rock." The
Roman equivalent of Ares is Mars, hence the translation sometimes used: the
Mars Hill.

In Paul's day, a section of the city of Rome was called the
Campus Martius, or Mars Field, so named for the military training maneuvers
that had taken place there and for the triumphs that were often held there.
During the time of Emperor Augustus, an altar to Pax, the goddess of peace, was
erected in the middle of the Mars Field. The architectural symbolism would have
been lost on no one: the way to peace, said Rome, was through war.

This location belied the story that the Romans told about
Pax's origin: she was supposed to have been the daughter of Iustitia, Lady
Justice. People like Paul, John the Baptist and Jesus knew very well that the
architecture was closer to the truth than the story was. For Rome, peace
proceeded not out of justice but out of war and the continual application of
violent power.

What were the Romans so afraid of that they spent so much time
and energy controlling it? What empires are always afraid of: the people and
their desire for good lives, fair treatment, security, food, justice.

"Do not fear what they fear," says the author of I Peter.
Fear and love God first, and you will not be able to help but find yourself
living lives of justice and mercy, beauty and dignity. And you yourself will
become an altar of the peace that passes all understanding.

May you love God so much that you love nothing else too
much. May you fear God enough that you need fear nothing else at all.

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