No other writing in the New Testament abounds with so many names of concrete persons—friends, supporters and collaborators in the mission—than the letters of Paul. They are a unique body of writings that break away from contemporary Greco-Roman epistolary conventions by their personal touch and intimate tone,which do not, however, diminish the impact of their writer’s apostolic authority. Paul’s letters vividly capture and convey the sentiments of the apostle toward his mission partners and benefactors—his overflowing gratitude, his heartfelt concern for their sanctification and his sincere regard for them. Collegiality is the mark of Paul’s missionary method. Though he does not hesitate to assume center stage in any endeavor, Paul does not selfishly lay claim to all the credits for the work accomplished. It is clear to him who is responsible for the growth of the plant and he understands the sense of detachment that is demanded of the one who plants the seed and the one who waters the sprout. For both are servants and only God is the Master and owner of the field (cf. 1 Cor 3:5-9).
In welcoming those who wish to partake of the burdens of the mission, Paul makes no distinction based on race, class and gender. This marks him as a true revolutionary, a breaker of barriers and a builder of bridges. If the present generation has evolved the concept of “networking” to express the establishment of linkages within and among the various dimensions of life and society, we should be aware that Paul had already been operating along this line even in the first century.
If today we talk of networking, especially on the level of technology, Paul has, in many ways, superseded us, for he was networking on the level of love. His concept of networking in love could not have been expressed more concretely than through his analogy of the body: “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually we are members one of another” (Rom 12:4-5). From this should proceed a harmonious working relationship that does not only appreciate differences but sees them as laying the groundwork for complementary action and the pooling of gifts.
Paul’s line up of mission partners, collaborators and supporters shows a daring break of existing conventions. He involved in his mission both Jews and Greeks, who were known to be hostile to one another. He welcomed the contribution of women, who at that time did not assume any active role outside the home. Even slaves, who had no identity of their own apart from that of their masters, were welcomed as co-workers. In so doing, Paul extended the various crosscurrents of national, social and gender cooperation in his day and opened to all the opportunity to participate in the mission. These participants in the Pauline mission defined Paul’s work as a “collaborative ministry.” The manner and degree of participation in this ministry, as well as the title or designation given to the co-workers varied. A number of co-workers like Timothy, Titus, and Tychicus, accompanied Paul in his jouneys and were occasionally sent to teach and minister to his communities in his absence. Wealthy Christians supported Paul’s mission as benefactors, offering their homes for use as house-churches and hosting Paul during his sojourn in the locality. Paul may have also tapped the help of his own relatives, especially in charting the evangelization of Thessalonica and Berea. Names of co-senders of letters, such as Silas, Sosthenes, and Timothy, mentioned in eight of the thirteen letters attributed to Paul, attest that even his written correspondence was not an individual enterprise. In fact, Paul was always assisted by a secretary whose role varied from taking dictation to being a co-author.
Networking, as a missionary strategy, testifies to the very content of the Good News—that the new life offered in Christ is a corporate existence to be lived in communion with other believers. The Pauline mission, characterized by participation, collaboration, pooling of energies and resources, was a “networking in love” in the most concrete sense. It thrived on the consciousness that Christian existence is incorporated in Christ, and could not be other than a state called “love.”
Excerpted from Glimpses of Paul and His Message.
Bernardita Dianzon, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St Paul. She obtained her Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and her Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Loyola School of Theology, where she also teaches the Letters of St Paul and biblical Greek.
About the image:
Paul at Miletus, by Teresa Groselj, FSP.