Neither Jew nor Gentile

We often hear things similar to the following:

There is no such thing as a gentile christian or a jewish christian. We are all one in Christ. Prior to Christ, you were either jewish or gentile, but not after: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek….” Gal. 3:27-28 Colossians 3 also backs this up.

If this manner of thinking regarding Jew and Gentile was correct, than according to the same passage there is also no more male or female.

Paul’s language in this case was intended to be understood spiritually speaking, not physically-speaking. Just as there are still male and female, there are still Jew and Gentile in the body of Messiah.

However, whereas many of the Jews in the first century believed only those Jewish after the flesh (physically speaking) could be assured of a place in the world to come, Paul is emphasizing that there is no longer (spiritually speaking) Jew and Gentile in Messiah, but one Body and that all who believe have equal access to the Father. All who believe are sons of Abraham and adopted into the “commonwealth of Israel”.

God-Oriented Choices

Several days ago I posted about Identity, opining that “Who we are is the sum of our choices.” This evening I’ve been pondering how brilliant it was of God to give us a list of “approved” choices.

Think about it; knowing that our identity is largely comprised of the accumulation of the choices we make, God gave us a list of “pre-approved” choices that would all contribute to a sense of personal dignity. Perhaps this is some part of what He meant in Deuteronomy 30.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16 ESV)

Whenever I read God talking about “life” or “live” I always think of Jesus’ words:

… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10 ESV)

And I recall that God’s comment regarding living in His way was that it’s not an impossible task, but that it is within our reach to choose wisely today.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off….But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. (Deuteronomy 30:11, 14 ESV)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:34 ESV)

Tradition Must Live and Breathe

In Chapter 10 of his De institutis coenobiorum (Institutes), which contains 12 chapters on the ordering of monastic life, St. John Cassian (circa 360 – 435) gives practical and pithy wisdom on the adaptation of “rules” to time and place.

But we need only keep to those which the situation of the place and the customs of the district permit. For the severity of the winter does not allow us to be satisfied with slippers or tunics or a single frock; and the covering of tiny hoods or the wearing of a sheepskin would afford a subject for derision instead of edifying the spectators. Wherefore we hold that we ought to introduce only those things which we have described above, and which are adapted to the humble character of our profession and the nature of the climate, that the chief thing about our dress may be not the novelty of the garb, which might give some offence to men of the world, but its honourable simplicity.

Too often we are enamoured of whatever tradition informs or fascinates us, and we attribute to the rules and instruction of a former time or a foreign place a rigidity unknown to their original formulation.

Tradition is helpful, indeed even necessary, so long as it serves a principle or set of principles. When it usurps the place of principle and becomes that which is being served, tradition becomes inflexible, harmful and counter-productive.

One of the things I love about God’s torah (teaching, instruction) is the eminent practicality of His nature revealed therein. I think of Deuteronomy 14 as an example:

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And before the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose, to make his name dwell there, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, of your wine, and of your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and flock, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the LORD your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the LORD your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the LORD your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire–oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. Deuteronomy 14:22-26 (ESV)

So God says to take 10% of the fruits of your labor and have a feast in Jerusalem with it. However, if you live too far away to get your animals, and produce to Jerusalem, sell your produce and bring the money to Jerusalem to have a feast filled with whatever your heart desires. That is a God in tune with the day-to-day realities of the people He was communicating with.

The quote from John Cassian delights me because we so often think of monasticism as one of the most rigid, legalistic forms of Christianity, yet here is one of the fathers of monasticism saying “take it easy, use what is appropriate and don’t let your punctiliousness cause you to stick out like a sore thumb rather than evidence your humility and simplicity.

A New Dark Ages?

“If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages that are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds of hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another–doubtless very different–St. Benedict.”

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 355-45.

The Trick to Community

As Walter Brueggemann says in Reverberations of Faith: A Theological Handbook of Old Testament Themes:

“The trick of community is to hold together real differences of interest in the midst of treasuring a passionate commitment to belong faithfully to one another.”

Casting Away Your Sins

There’s a wonderful Jewish tradition connected with Rosh Hashanah, or the Feast of Trumpets, called Taslich. Basically it consists of emptying your pockets of leavened bread crumbs and casting them into a river or stream, and letting the water carry away your “sins” to the sea as a visualization of Micah 7:19.

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  (Micah 7:18-19 ESV)

We’ve done this for a couple years now, and while I’ve always appreciated the physicality of this remembrance, I’m enjoying it ten-fold now watching our children participate and learn that God takes away their sins, but that there is also a part they play in casting off fleshly ways.

Elorah Tashlich-2008

Elorah throws away her 'sins'

Identity

The other day I called a friend to encourage him in love and good deeds. I got his voice mail, so I left a message. In the process I articulated something that has been intriguing me ever since.

Who we are is the sum of our choices. This means that simply by making a right choice today, you can be a different person tomorrow then you were yesterday.

The cumulative effect of these choices determines who we are and who we are becoming. The power of this realization is that it rejects the power of the past to dictate who we are and are becoming, and frees up our future to be determined by our actions today.