“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
This vision of radical, mutual love that Paul had for the Galatians came straight from Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ hopes for the church were revolutionary. Irrational. Almost unimaginable. The harsh power boundaries that existed in Jesus’ community between Jews and Greeks, slaves and free people, and men and women are hard for us to fully grasp today. For example, Jews and Greeks are not seen as oppositional groups in our society. It is easy for us, then, to read this passage without giving Paul and Jesus credit for how counter-cultural their vision of unity was. Widows, aliens and orphans are three groups repeatedly mentioned in the Bible as needing advocacy. We can infer from these named groups that women, foreigners and children lacked human rights in the Biblical society. Times have changed. We do not have slavery. Widows tend to have the rights they need to survive. Yet we can understand human made rifts that have societal consequences. Try: There is no longer Baptist nor Catholic, there is no longer Iraqi or American, there is no longer homosexual or heterosexual; for all are one in Christ Jesus. Our church still struggles to come together united as one in Christ Jesus.
What groups of people would you mention if we were to update this verse from Paul to the Galatians about our modern day church?
Monday we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr. Like this verse from Galatians, it is easy to recite famous lines form Dr. King’s speeches without fully feeling the revolutionary, irrational ideas he was preaching. His vision incorporated all people being judged by the content of their character more than the color of their skin. He also stood up against the War in Vietnam. His vision of unity had economic and political consequences. When he was shot, he was in Memphis organizing non-violent marches and boycotts to advocate better wages and safer conditions for black sanitary workers. His vision came from Jesus’ vision of radical, mutual love. He worked to address the poverty, unemployment and lack of education leading to lack of economic opportunity for black Americans. There is no longer black or white; we are all one in Christ Jesus.
What steps have we taken as a society to actualize Dr. King’s vision of America?
How can our church community take serious steps toward turning Dr. King’s vision into reality?
On Martin Luther King Day, we also celebrate the other men and women who worked for civil rights alongside Dr. King. John Lewis, now a US Representative, was trained in nonviolence by Reverend James Lawson as a young student. Nonviolence is not easy. In his memoir, Walking With the Wind, Lewis talks about being trained to take hatred into your body while being beaten and transform it into love. He was trained to picture his attackers as small children, vulnerable and innocent. John Lewis took his skills in nonviolence to sit-ins, boycotts, and on the Freedom Rides and indeed risked his life for Jesus’ vision of radical, mutual love. John Lewis was the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The work that students did during the Civil Rights Movement is a testament to the power that young people have when they chose to organize and change their communities for the better.
What advantage do you have over older people in your ability to organize and change your communities?
How are you told that you are not powerful as a group of people? How are you empowered as young people to make your communities better?
If you could organize with other students like John Lewis did, what issue would you address? Would your want your group to be nonviolent?
What can you do on Monday to celebrate Jesus, Paul, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis?
Photo courtesy of alvesfamily via Creative Commons License.