There is so much to see in Rome, but when you have 4 children and only a few days there are limits. So you prioritize, discover most of the free things, ride the city bus, and be thankful for what you get. But then the moment comes, where your wife says “The kids and I could use a rest, you should go somewhere you’ve been wanting to go without us this afternoon.”
I knew my destination right away. The “Scala Santa“: a staircase within a church that legend says were brought from Pontius Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem – climbed by Jesus himself as he was facing sentencing/trial. Whether the legend is true or not, people (including Martin Luther) have visited here for a very long time, to draw close to God and repent of self. I was looking forward to some historic personal time with God.
It was closed.
Suddenly I was across the city, without a destination other than wanting to spend time with God. So we walked a bit together as I looked at the map. It seemed like the ancient “Appian Way” that Paul would have traveled was relatively close, so I began in that direction. What should have been a 30-minute walk, took closer to an hour. Near the “Prima Colonna Miliaria”, commemorating the restoration made by Vespasian in 76 AD and by Nerva in 97 AD, I spent some time imagining this path out of the city lined with 6,000 crosses as Crassus returned from defeating Sparticus and the slave rebellion of 73 BC. Wow.
After a bit more walking, I realized I wasn’t really sure where I was and the sun was quickly going down. The walk here was long and empty and not very pedestrian-friendly, so I wanted to try a new direction that might get me close to a bus stop. My phone was almost dead, so I couldn’t spend time navigating but trusted it would be easy to find myself in familiar places again. Nevertheless, as I walked I became a bit disappointed at how the afternoon had turned out. As I was forced to keep walking further away, due to a giant old city wall, I shared my disappointment with God.
He politely listened, smiled with love and told me to stop walking for a second and look around. Originally I’d wanted to spend time with God, drawing close to Him, and repenting of self. Here I was, officially feeling “stuck outside” the ancient walls of the Empire. His heart was beating faster…God was excited about what I was realizing.
“Do you know how often the Empires of this world have made people feel ‘stuck outside’ the walls? People who are not valued, overlooked, disregarded, and uninvited. People who feel, or have been made to feel like something about themselves locate them here, looking from the outside at a wall they’re not included within. Look at the walls again for a moment, and recognize where I am right now.”
You’re outside the wall, here with me?
“Yes. I am. And I want you to continue joining me in that proclamation for the sake of those who don’t feel “invited” to the celebrations or existence of the empires. I am with them also.” I repented of the ways I’m inclined to naturally include some, and not reach out to others. Loved and forgiven, I found a bus and made it home long after dark.
It would be easy to read this and begin to embrace what it might mean for a specific people or cause. To rally the troops and attempt to create or defend an “empire of those without empire”. Don’t.
For right now, as you read this – recognize that no matter who you are, what you’ve lived through, or how the empires regard you – God is with you. His Love extends to you, embraces you, and claims you as a welcome citizen of the Kingdom. Turn away from self, and toward your new foundational identity as one who is Beloved by God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.
Now we go and live that love toward others…