Greet Mary, who has worked so hard among you
Today's Scripture might seem unexceptionable, but I chose it for a specific reason. It has been a year-and-a-half since our little home church began the study of the Book of Romans; what I consider Paul's greatest work. Throughout that time, we have reveled in Paul's systematic approach to the Gospel message.
He showed us God’s redemptive plan for all mankind – both the Jews and the Gentiles – and showed us how a life of righteousness should be lived. Most of all he showed us in Romans 3:24 the heart of his message: We are [all] justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
As I got to the last chapter of Romans I contemplated, for just a moment, that it might be anti-climatic. After all, it appeared to be only a simple letter in which Paul thanked an assortment of people. After the magnificence of the rest of the Book, would this have any significance to our small group of Believers? How dare I shortchange the Bible!
As I dived into who these people were, and why Paul felt moved to mention them, they came alive to me. I'd like to share their stories with you...
First of all, there are 33 people named; 25 men and 8 women. The first to be mentioned is Phoebe, a prominent businesswoman, who carried that letter all the way from Corinth to Rome … a distance of 616 miles!!!
Paul commends her as a faithful servant and a deacon[ess]. That does not mean that she held some governmental office in that church; (we sometimes read present-day meanings into these words). It means that she had assumed a ministry on behalf of the church. She represented them in some labor, and whether it was material, physical, or spiritual, she was very faithful in it. There is strong evidence here that Phoebe was a teacher or an evangelist -- a laborer for the gospel with Paul. We don’t know much else about her, but she was obviously important, and she is mentioned first.
Next we meet Priscilla and Aquila, a famous husband-wife team. Luke tells us they were Jews, tentmakers by trade, who were driven out of Rome by the decree of the Emperor Claudius. They shared the trade of tent-making with Paul, and also ministered in the synagogue. They were valuable teachers of the faith, and Priscilla's name is often mentioned before her husband's, indicating that she had the gift of teaching, rather than him. But wherever they are mentioned in the Bible, there is a church in their home.
Epaenetus was someone Paul would never forget … he was the first person Paul led to Christ when he journeyed to Asia. We do not know what Epaenetus was doing in Rome, but he was cherished because he was the first to exercise faith in Asia.
Associated with him is Mary, whom Paul calls "Mary the worker", and who is featured in today's verse of Scripture. We don't know anything else about her, except that she is one of the group of unknown women in the Gospels who had the gift of helps. She could not teach or preach or evangelize, but she could work, and she did. I would suppose that Mary had a heart for serving, and that is why Paul makes the effort to single her out.
Paul then goes on to mention a series of friends and relatives -- all serving the Church in faithfulness. There are Andronicus and Junia(s), relatives who came to Christ before Paul did; possibly through an encounter with Stephen. Other mentioned relatives are Lucius, Jason and Sosipator.
Ampliatus and Narcissus are thought to have been slaves in a Roman household, as were Quartus and Tertius, to whom Paul dictated the letter to the Romans; while Tryphaena and Tryphosa, along with Herodian, were of the aristocratic class. It is thought that Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas were perhaps a group of Greek businessmen who formed a group of faithful servants to the Church in Rome. And we must not think of the "Church in Rome" as we do today. It did not resemble the wealthy Vatican and Catholic Church of modern times, but consisted in various house churches as that conducted by four others mentioned in the 16th Chapter of Romans, Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas.
Paul also mentions Rufus, whom historians believe to be the son of Simon of Cyrene, who helped our Lord carry His cross on the way to Calvary. How many times do you think he asked his father to relate how that experience helped him to believe in our Lord? And what a witness, he would have been for the Church! Also included are the names of Persis, Urbanus and Stachys, all noted as "fellow workers in Christ".
Paul ends his letter by mentioning Timothy, his "beloved son in the Faith"; Gaius, who hosted a home church in Corinth; and Erastus, the city treasurer of Corinth, along with others I've already named; all helping him to do the Lord's work and encouraging the Church.
As you can see, we have slaves, prominent business people, and members of aristocratic families, proving that the Gospel message had infiltrated the ranks of Roman society and brought them all together as members of Christ’s body, the Church. (What an excellent example that the Church is not the building; it's the people!)
The point of this post is that we often skip over these names of people in the Bible. But we should take note of their steady, tested commitment, and their faithfulness to the gospel. We should be especially aware that they labored for the Gospel ... it was their life's work! Today we Christians give in so easily to the world's philosophy of life -- live for your own pleasure, focus on retiring at the end of your life and discontinuing your work. The early Christians did not believe that! They worked tirelessly their entire lives to spread the Gospel message. Instead of skipping over these names, we should honor them for their selfless service to our Lord, and seek to imitate the example of Mary, "who has worked so hard among you".