by Amos Smith
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:28
This verse from Galatians is what made the early church profound – what made it spread like wildfire. In the highly stratified society of Jesus’ time no one could believe that different classes, genders, and ethnicities sung, prayed, and broke bread together. This was unheard of.
In Jesus’ time “acceptable company” was defined very narrowly. For example, it was taboo for a Rabbi to associate with women, Samaritans, or ritually unclean people, among others.
The early church drop-kicked all the purity codes. They learned this audacious behavior from Jesus who “touched the leper” (Matthew 8:3). In my estimation, those are the three most revolutionary words of the Gospel. In Jesus’ time no one ever looked at a leper, much less considered touching one. When lepers came around most people ran, and some pelted them with stones. So for Jesus to “touch the leper” was radical.
Contemporary Christian author Brian Zhand writes “Jesus was trying to lead humanity into the deep truth that there is no ‘them,’ there is only us.”
Most people would say, “Okay I can accept this statement, but there are obvious exceptions, like lepers.” Jesus shattered this exceptionalism of the liberal Jews of his time when he fearlessly touched the loathsome leper. The liberal Jews wanted to minimize factions and to broaden boundary lines of acceptability. Yet, the leper blew away all categories and was out of bounds.
When we experience factions, superiority complexes, power struggles, purity codes, and sibling rivalries, we are mired in the human condition, otherwise known as original sin. If, on the other hand, we stretch the comfort zone and reach out to people on the margins of society, as Jesus did in his time, we edge toward the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God, as envisioned by Jesus, stretched comfort zones, even to the point of touching the untouchable.
Someone might have a valid claim to superiority because of nationality, IQ, class, et cetera. Yet, from the perspective of the Gospel, any advantage we may have, should be used to serve the less fortunate. We may possess legitimate authority and power. Yet, according to Jesus, that power is best utilized in service to our neighbors. In other words, the best leaders are servant leaders (Matthew 20:25-28).
The grace the early Christians experienced in their own lives through the radically inclusive love of Jesus they extended to others, not just to their own clan, class, or religious group. The early Christians saw the beauty and God-given worth of each and every person. This made the early Christians extraordinary.
Discrimination against minorities is becoming more common in the United States today. Whenever a minority is discriminated against in America, even a leper, we are called to resist in Jesus’ name.