Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | May 31, 2009

Epistle of Mathetes to…

While folks like Steve Robinson have been off being useful, some of us have been off on post high-season vacation in Florida… the first in a long, long time… being somewhat less useful. Okay… we actually were useful in unintended but not unfamiliar ways: We made repeat appearances in Sanibel in the guise of Rain Gods. Yes, for the second time, we single-handedly ended a long period of drought, bringing a week’s deluge sufficient to cause NASA to redirect landing of the space shuttle to California. Local growers, flora, fauna and especially our favorite amphibians (Frogs and Toads!) loved us. Local hotels and fellow touristas…. well… let’s just say we had to hire some beefy types with “heaters”.

At least this time, we weren’t traveling with small children so the re-direction of our time to our books, DVD rentals, beach walks, etc. was unconstrained by the need to de-energize (de-bean) a set of rambunctious kids with ideas of their own and no means to  pursue them other than running roughshod over the nerves of their frazzled parents. Yeah… those were the days when a vacation was not a vacation unless you could wear the little crazy nuts out in time for a reasonably sedate dinner. Twenty-something kids having absorbed all the “rest and be quiet” lessons of those years… seem to need no encouragement and will readily sleep all day… and it’s the ‘rents that seem to need to invent ways to de-bean.

So finding myself alone on what my wife refers to as one of my Bataan Death Marches – this one to the Lighthouse at the end of the island, I turned on a podcast from Deacon Matthew Steenberg on the Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus. This familiar passage of uncertain  provenance is nonetheless pretty good stuff. As a frame to recent tussles between and within our jurisdictions, the epistle offers a worthy vision of the Church and her people in an apologetic revealing the paradoxical attraction of counter-cultural christianity of that – or any – era. It is nothing short of a challenge we could more faithfully embody individually… and as the Body of Christ.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers…. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed…and…persecuted; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.

(Note: I’ve editted this to more or less approximate Deacon Matthew Steenberg’s reading of the text).


  1. Ah yes, vacation without kids to corral and entertain…yeeha! The “useful” stuff was kind of a vacation, I worked harder there than I do “in the world”, but context is everything. Vacations are more work than staying home in most ways, its just a change of scenery. Its great that you could be Elijah for the Floridians. Maybe you could visit Arizona in June.

  2. Thanks for sharing this podcast. It is very good. It also shows me how far I need to go to even begin to approximate a Christian.

    Glad you had some ‘get away’ time. I’ve heard Sanibel is beautiful and hope to visit there someday.

  3. S-P: I’ll come and bring some rain to Arizona in June if you’ll bring some heat and sunshine to DC in January.

    Athanasia: Sanibel lost a few trees to the hurricanes… but it’s still one of the few places left in Florida without high rises or a lot of development. Got to visit my grandparents’ graves… and stop by for a moment of memories on the beach of their old apartment in nearby (old) Naples. There are tricks to enjoying Florida… and I think one of them is not letting rain get you down. It didn’t. We had really outstanding OJ and books and lots of sleep.

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