No longer Jew or Greek

No longer Jew or Greek

Listen now

Amy is reaffirming her baptismal commitments today. So, we couldn’t not take a look at the passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians – because we have a hint here of something wonderful, which should both inspire and challenge all of us. Both the already baptised and those not yet. It tells us something of what we’ve all signed-up to. But I want you to help me with this. If I say: ‘No longer Jew or Greek,’ you say: ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

No distinctions

Paul wasn’t advocating a revolution when he wrote this two thousand years ago. He had no grand plan for social justice or legal reforms. His focus was on creating communities where these distinctions just didn’t matter. Communities that showed what life ‘in Christ’ should look like.

Paul’s mission or purpose was to prepare people who were meeting together as church – just as we are now. He wanted to show them how to relate to each other as if they were in the very presence of God, which is how he understood them to be. The cross of Christ meant there should be no distinctions between Jews or Gentiles; no distinction in standing between slaves and those who were free; no distinction between women and men.

At the time when Paul was writing, a well-off household would employ someone to be a disciplinarian who was tasked with keeping the master’s son out of trouble and escorting him when he was outside the house. It was supposedly a temporary role until the son grew up. What a brilliant idea I can see some of you thinking! I wished we’d had one of those!

Paul likens that person to the law, the Torah of the Hebrew Scriptures. He’s suggesting that when we were immature, we too needed the discipline of those instructions and guidelines – but in Christ we’ve reached maturity. Perhaps the jury is out on that one with some of us here!

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ – ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

Jew or Greek

As for Jews and Greeks, it’s easy for us to forget all those dietary laws which made it difficult for a Jew to even share a meal with a non-Jew without the risk of becoming ritually impure. Remember that passage from Acts from a few weeks ago, when Peter had that vision with the sheet coming down of things he thought he couldn’t or shouldn’t eat – and then went and stayed at the house of a Roman centurion. The Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem were scandalised at Peter stopping and eating with a Gentile.

And on the other side, the Greeks had a saying at the time about being thankful that they were ‘born a human being and not an animal, a Greek and not a barbarian…’ There’s a third part to that which I’ll come back to later.

Paul was asking both Jews and Greeks to put all that to one side. They were to be on an equal footing. I invite you to ask yourself if there’s any group of people now that you think of as barbarian, any that you would think twice about staying with or sharing a meal with?

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ – ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

Slave or free

Thank you for reminding me! And then Paul looks at slavery. Elsewhere in his letters, Paul doesn’t really criticise the institution of slavery. Perhaps he considered it too big a thing to fight against? He stops short, doesn’t go quite far enough for our modern sensibilities. Instead, he focuses here on what happens when the slave and the free were together in Christian community. It was another challenge to those he was writing to. When they met together a person’s background or position in society should not influence perception of their spiritual gifts or their leadership potential or the respect that they should be accorded.

Again, perhaps today we might take some time to think whether within different levels of the church we are influenced at all by where someone lives, what kind of house they have, or where they went to school or what job they have or had? In God’s economy, all are equal.

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ – ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

Male and female

You’re right! Paul has addressed Jew or Greek, slave or free. Now it’s the turn of male and female. In the Epistles, women often had roles of the highest importance. Chloe leading a church house, Phoebe bearing and interpreting Paul’s letters – numerous female prophets and leaders of prayer. The thought expressed by Paul here is that in those early Christian communities, men and women both are co-heirs with Christ.

At the time, women had few rights under the law, certainly not equivalent legal status to men. And the third part of the saying that I missed out earlier was men being thankful about ‘being made a man and not a woman’. Both Jews and Greeks had that saying!

So, in respect of sexual equality, Paul was being quite radical for the time. Women should have the same respect as men. It seems odd to even have to mention it now, but we don’t have to go back too far to see the Anglican church making a distinction – and the Roman Catholic church still do.

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ – ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

And it’s on the basis of that that we get to the crunch. Verse 27: ‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ’. As we’ve seen, at times Paul’s reordering of human relationships was sometimes radical but, in some areas, not radical enough. However, Christ risked himself entirely for God’s purposes. To be clothed with Christ is to be like him, to go where he goes, do what he does. It should affect our thinking, our feeling and our behaving.

I held out my hands

Our Old Testament reading today was from Isaiah. It contains these words from God: ‘I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me… I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices’.

God is always coming to us, always showering us with love. The Gospel reading shows Jesus putting those words into practice and coming to a man as good as dead – his body occupied by demons, cast out of his home by family and friends, literally living in the tombs. He’s dead to his sense of self and dead to the sustaining relationships which he grew up with. Into this darkness comes Jesus, unafraid and with love.

He comes to us too, when we are living in our own metaphorical tombs, whether tombs of circumstance or tombs of our own making. Those dark places might be the death of a loved one, or death of a relationship or a dream for the future. Jesus is there, ready to free us for life and love.

Whoever puts on Christ in Baptism is called to follow him into those dark places, to enact and embody his love for the world in the world. That’s our challenge.

Pause for thought

For Amy and everyone else here who has been baptised already, our baptism calls us to live in such a way that there are no distinctions – neither here within our church community nor with the world outside these walls. To welcome everyone equally. It should give us pause for thought: are our actions and decisions in keeping with who we should be, with who we are called to be?

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ – ‘no longer slave or free, no longer male and female.’

Yes, but more than that, let’s pray that we, like Jesus, may always be found seeking out those who need Christ’s love the most – and in that seeking, may we ourselves find and share the life and the love which makes all things new. That reminded me of Mother Teresa and the poem on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta. It’s called ‘Do it Anyway’, and it seems like a pretty good description of being clothed with Christ.

Do it anyway

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Amen

‘No longer Jew or Greek’ was preached by Ian Banks at Christ Church Walmersley on 19th June 2022. It was based on Galatians 3:23-end.

References:

stjohnstmarkchurchbury

Related Posts

July & August 2022 magazine

July & August 2022 magazine

July 2022 Bible Readings

July 2022 Bible Readings

Summer Sing-Out

Summer Sing-Out

The Trinity

The Trinity

No Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Welcome to St John & St Mark

Images of church life

If you’d like to support us, please…

Sign-up

Please enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email

Follow on Twitter

VISIT OUR YouTube CHANNEL

CofE Walmersley YouTube

Top Posts & Pages

Pages