Over the centuries the most historic divisions between human beings have been race, class, and gender.
In today’s climate imagine saying “there is neither Jew nor Christian, slave nor free person, male nor female” Imagine a Twitter or Facebook post claiming these historic divisions were now history rather than fact. The “Twitterverse”, etc. would erupt with comments ranging from “No way, just look around you” to “That’s just communist propaganda”!
Yet that is St. Paul’s bold proclamation in his letter to the Galatians 3:28
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
New Testament witness
The author of “The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided writes
That all of those divisions are healed in Jesus Christ is the claim of the early church. Jews and Gentiles now lived and worshiped together, slaves were treated with the same respect as masters, and women found a freedom of expression unheard of in the patriarchal ancient world.
The New Testament indicates how radically different and diverse the welcoming culture of the early church was in its own context, which other historical accounts confirm.
Its egalitarian living and sharing, as described in the first chapters of Acts, provoked great cultural attention and lent a powerful impulse to the evangelism of the early Christian community.
Freedom, welcome, affirmation, and equality were as attractive then as they are now, and the first Christians exemplified these qualities (unlike some of our churches today ) .
(Admittedly, it is another story to realize how some of these divisions bubble up even in the very early centuries after Christ.)
Can that vision work today?
Is what Paul said true?
Some might think, Paul is simply referring to being equal in the eyes of God. It is unrealistic to expect that mirrored in daily life today. There are real differences of all kinds.
But isn’t that the point? We are all equal in the eyes of God despite all these differences. If so, then any structural inequalities contradict Paul and the long biblical tradition he stands in.
The author continues…
Thus we have a hopeful and radical vision of diversity throughout biblical history with the purpose of bringing a divided humanity into reconciliation with God and one another. And there is a clear and consistent theme that “outsiders” have an important place and role in that community of faith and should be embraced and included rather than condemned and banished. Indeed, those relationships with the outsider can even become instruments for our salvation.
Where do we find our identity: in nation, culture, class, race, gender — or first and foremost in God and a new and international community of God’s people?
Is this identity only to be in the next life? Isn’t this what we are supposed to be working toward even today?
Is it at least a fair question to keep in mind as we look at the structures of our society and our world? Remember ours is a world where women get paid less than men, people ought to live in neighborhoods with their own kind, or the people of one continent are superior to those of another continent or nation.
- What is most important to you – your nation, culture, class, race, gender — or first and foremost, being in God and a new and international community of God’s people?
- What can and should be done to truly live as equal daughters and sons of our common God EVEN NOW?
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk