Tag Archives: Jews

Breaking Social Boundaries

source: krayker via Flickr
source: krayker via Flickr

…and [Peter] said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.” Acts 10:28 (NSRV)

In high school, people were separated by social sub-cultures: jocks, nerds, burnouts, toughs, bookworms, and etc. There was also separation by ethnicity in my high school which, at the time, was the most racially and ethnically diverse school in the district with whites, blacks, asians, and hispanics. Then there were separation by world-views. Christian kids hung tight, as did partiers, smokers, drugees, and so on. You get the picture.

I’ve observed along my life journey that adults are typically children who learn to mask, obfuscate, deny, normalize, and justify our childishness.

The cultural realities faced by the early followers of Jesus was like an extremely bad case of high school. Romans, Greeks, Africans, and Judeans all had their separate and unequal cultures. Pagans and Jews had their separate groups. Within sub-cultures like the Jews you had sub-groups dedicated to religious, political, and ethnic bents. The region around Jerusalem was a melting pot turned powder keg. You belonged to your sub-culture, you hung with your homeys, and you kept to yourselves.

And, Jesus was about to radically change all of that. The seeds had been sown. Jesus had led the way. In a misogynistic, self-righteous, ethnic Jewish culture Jesus broke social norms by speaking with a Samaritan woman at a well and extended gracious kindness and forgiveness to prostitutes. In a culture of political silos, Jesus was publicly seen with both Jews and Romans, the religious and the secular, the rich and the poor. Jesus called twelve men from a diverse panacea of political views including liberal Roman sympathizers, Jewish zealots, Jewish conservatives. They came from diverse socio-economic strata of the day.

Jesus is now gone, and His followers are falling back into their high school sub-cultures. In today’s chapter, God intervenes by making an introduction between the conservative, religiously self-righteous Peter and the “unclean” Roman foreigner, Cornelius. God makes a radical, paradigm shifting demand of Peter, the appointed leader of Jesus’ followers: stop considering any person unclean (e.g. less than, lower than, other) or profane (e.g. meaningless, not worth my time).

This morning I’m having a serious heart-to-heart with God. Who is my Cornelius? Have I slipped back into high school mode hanging with my homeys and steering clear of those who look differently, were raised different, believe differently, have different political views, come from different social strata? Lord, have mercy on me. Forgive me for my mindless, thoughtless, unintentional way I treat others as unclean and/or profane.

Yesterday is gone, but I have today before me. Help me cross and erase social boundaries in my thoughts, words, and actions.

Good Samaritan Redux

This screenshot shows Paul Henreid and Humphre...
“I’m not interested in politics. The problems of the world are not in my department.” – Humphrey Bogart as Rick in “Casablanca” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labor, as it is to this day. But Solomon did not make slaves of any of the Israelites; they were his fighting men, his government officials, his officers, his captains, and the commanders of his chariots and charioteers. 1 Kings 9:21-22 (NIV)

I find it fascinating that throughout history almost every tribe, nation, and people on this earth have practiced some form of racial or tribal differentiation, dominance, and inequity. The systemic system of conscripted slavery described during Solomon’s reign is not unlike what the Israelites themselves experienced in Egypt, and what they would someday experience again with the occupations of Assyria and Babylon. What goes around comes around.

I sometimes hear people speak as if the world is getting better all the time, and that humanity is moving towards peace, harmony, and universal political correctness. Then I watch the evening news. Beheadings, genocide, mass graves, tribal conflict, racial discrimination, and religious intolerance are commonplace. We are all guilty.

Next to the major problems of the world that get pushed to the home screen of my phone on a constant basis, I sometimes feel small and insignificant living in my little Iowa hometown. I hear Humphrey Bogart’s voice in my head from Casablanca as Rick says to Laszlow: “The problems of the world are not in my department.”

And yet, they are in my department. I affect the people and world around me in my sphere of influence. I can recognize and fight the prejudices in my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was about the reality that the “neighbor” in His command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was not just your homogenous tribal group but also the person who is your tribal, racial, social and political enemy. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other the same way the Jews and Palestinians hate each other today. THAT was the whole point of the story.

This morning I wake up far from home amidst a culture very different from my own. I can choose to hold these people, who are very different from me, at arm’s length. Or, I can fight my natural inclinations and choose to understand them, listen to them, feel for them, and love them as I love the quirky white people of my Dutch American heritage back home.



Chapter-a-Day Matthew 2

Star of Bethlehem, Magi - wise men or wise kin...
Image by Wonderlane via Flickr

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.” Matthew 2:1 (MSG)

It’s interesting to read this passage in light of our recent journey through Jeremiah’s story. Five hundred years before the events in today’s chapter, the people of Israel had been taken into exile. Where? To Babylon and Assyria, in the east. Those taken into exile were the best and the brightest of Israel‘s young men who, in some cases, rose to positions of leadership and influence.

Now, hundreds of years later, a celestial phenomena sends these foreign scholars and astronamers searching for its meaning. How did they know this event in the heavens signaled the birth of “the king of the Jews?” Since there is no record of the prophetic sign in the scripture, it’s most likely that a prophetic word was given through one of the Israelites in exile hundreds of years before. Perhaps it was Daniel or one of his friends. We may never know who it was, but we know that these many years later God weaves the tragic events of the exile into the timeless story of Jesus’ birth. The scholars from the east become a beautiful word picture. Among the very first to recognize the messiah and worship him were non-Jewish gentiles. Even at his birth, Jesus was gathering the nations.

Today, I’m encouraged reading the story of the Magi. It’s a great reminder that God is in control. He weaves the threads of past events into our present circumstances to accomplish his purpose. Like the Magi, my journey is simply a thread in a much larger tapestry.

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