My mind is on pavement and payment. First, let me speak to pavement. The pavement of greater Cincinnati is being shaken, shifted, squashed and secured. This has been the “summer of the detour.” Roads and ramps have been rocked and widened, disrupted and reconstructed. You get the picture because you have been a part of the slow, grueling, snarled traffic as “our world” has been paved.
While waiting “patiently” in one of the pavement parties, I realized the world is paved and according to Harvard economist, Edward Glaeser, this is a good thing. His point is undeniable: most of the places people prefer to live are paved.
Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and there’s a steady stream of people moving from the countryside to the city. In fact, 5 million people in the developing world make the move every month. My son, Nicholas is one of those as he travels to Boston this week.
So why is this “pavement” good news?
In his new book Triumph of the City, Glaeser calls cities “our species’ greatest invention.” When people live near each other, they become more inventive — good thinkers inspire each other. People tend to be more productive and specialized. The success of large cities is the result of finding new sources of prosperity when the old ones disappear. It is a simple, but safe bet … if a city is not flexible, it will die.
Back in the first century, the greatest paving projects in the world were performed by the engineering geniuses of the Roman Empire, and all roads led to Rome, the Big Apple of its day. So when the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, he was reaching out to Christians of a thoroughly paved metropolitan area.
Sensing that urban life could make people more inventive and productive, Paul wrote a letter of inspiring theology and ethical application. He offered guidelines that could help Romans collaborate, innovate and practice enough flexibility to make their city work.
“Owe no one anything,” Paul says in Romans 13:8. This is where “payment” floats into my mind. Paul knows this statement will grab the attention of the Romans, residents of a political and financial center. Money was constantly changing hands in Rome, and its people understood all about credits and debits as they collaborated with one another.
But Paul takes this collaboration in a surprising direction — he says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (v. 8). Paul says that just as the legal tender of money can cover “all debts, public and private” (take a look at the words on your dollar bills), the compassionate offer of love can cover “the fulfilling of the law” (v. 10).
My offer is this. The next time you are sitting “patiently” on the pavement waiting on yet another detour, look around and smile at your collaborators in honor of how their presence in your life inspires you to flexibility and productivity. And while you are contemplating if or when you might let the person on your left in your lane of traffic, who ignored the flashing light to “merge” 12 miles ago, remember and redeem Paul’s admonition to “owe no one anything, except to love.” I can promise you two things: it will not be easy, but it will ease you!