PFOA: Ephesians 2:11-13
The terrorist attacks in Paris have grabbed the attention of the world during the last few weeks. The opinion around the world is decidedly divided. The Western nations has been unequivocal in its condemnation, whereas many Muslims around the world have expressed, if not support, as least sympathy for the rationale for the violence. The French feel that their way of life, rights, values and practice (or non-practice) of religion threaten by the other side. The terrorists claim their violence is a response to the oppression and invasion of Islamic lands and nations. Activists from each group become radicalised leading some to take extreme and violent action. Can there be peace?
In Genesis 12, we read that out of all the people then on earth, God chose Abram and changed his name to Abraham as he was to be a great father – the father of God’s chosen people. The nation Israel, being chosen of God was to be a “light to the nations”; a witness to the only true God. They were to demonstrate to the nations by their life as a nation what the character of God and what it means to live under the sovereignty of God, enjoy His protection, provision and purpose. As a sign, God gave them the rite of circumcision, a permanent and distinguishing mark that they belong to Him. The Jews were proud of their status and privileges of being God’s chosen people, symbolised in this way.
Soon they began to look down with disdain on other people, calling them gentiles, the “uncircumcised lot” (v.11). Indeed God blessed the children of Israel, as He had promised Abraham, but they in turn were to be a blessing to the nations, something, with such an attitude of superiority, they failed to do.
Let’s not be too quick to judge the Jews. Until the 1800’s “Christian” Europe considered peoples from other continents as “benighted pagans”. Similarly the Chinese called everyone else barbarians. Ethnocentrism, which Wikipedia defines as “judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture” is alive and well in all of us. Some may remember watching old Western movies where the cowboys say “the only good injun is a dead injun”. We see this in Singapore tourists complaining about the chaos, crowds and crude facilities encountered on their overseas vacations.
Taken to extremes we have xenophobia, which is “the unreasoned fear of those perceived to be foreign or strange”. It’s the conflict between the “ingroup” and the “outgroup”. Each party considers themselves the “ingroup” and are wary of the influence, values and practices of the outgroup. They fear losing their identity. This goes some way towards explaining the recent horrific events in Paris.
The reality is that there are two groups of people. They are not separated by race or religion, not by gender, nor by wealth or geography. In God’s eyes, one group consists of those who “are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” and the other group are the “strangers and aliens”. Those who are with God and those who are separated from God. This is the ultimate haves and have-nots divide – between those who have salvation and eternal life and those who are under condemnation and death.
As followers of Jesus we are members of God’s household. Our indentity is sure, for we are in Christ. However in this letter we are reminded that once we belong to the other group, we were far away, alienated from the Kingdom of God, without hope and without God. But because of the blood of Christ, by His death and resurrection, we have been brought near, into God’s household, becoming citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Unlike the xenophobic tendencies of natural humankind, our attitude and relationship with members of the other group, with those far from God and separated from Christ is not one of hatred, fear or contempt. God loves them, even if they profess a different faith, so we are to love them and introduce them to the grace of God in the Gospel. For we remember that but for the grace of God, we would be as they are – lost and without hope.