Day 23: Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
A deep divide separated Judeans and Greeks, slave and free in the ancient world. There is a reference to a Synagogue of Freedmen in Acts. They are blamed for the eruption of communal violence that led to the murder of Stephen. When the followers of Jesus are driven from Jerusalem, it is only the Greek-speaking believers who must flee.
Regional, ethnic, and cultural divides are nothing new in the world. Neither are deep religious divides. The history of racism, bigotry and genocide is deep and long in human affairs, to our shame.
The Biblical narrative knows of many of these deep divisions and fosters a few. The archenemy, Hamaan, who conspires to destroy the Jews in the story of Esther, is made an Amalekite – a tribe who picked off the weak and vulnerable as Israel traversed the wilderness. Saul loses his kingship, in part, over his failure to utterly destroy the Amalekites when God gave him victory. It seems like ethnic cleansing to us now, though it might be better compared to the utter destruction of an urban gang or Mafioso family.
We confess that the Biblical narrative is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the incarnate Word, the embodiment of all God’s speaking to us. Whatever the violence of Israel’s history, Jesus welcomes sinners and outcasts, Samaritans and Gentiles. He commanded us to love our enemies and regard all people as our neighbor. He said that love of neighbor was the same thing as love of God.
The Spirit that Jesus breathes upon his followers leads them to baptize Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch and the Roman Centurion, Cornelius. The first Christian communities transcended the ancient barriers that divide us. Though humanity lost the harmony of God’s garden, we are raised to new life as citizens of the age to come when we sit at one table.
In one Spirit we are baptized into one body. Our unity in Christ transcends all earthly divisions. Or, at least, it’s supposed to. We have found ways to marshal religious feeling into its own brand of tribalism, but that is not the work of the Holy Spirit.
In my experience, it is among the marginalized that I have been made to feel most welcome. It seems we lose something essential when Christianity plays footsie with power and privilege.
in the waters of baptism you made us members of your body.
Renew in us this day the bonds of affection
that we may love one another as you have loved us.
– A prayer for the fourth week of Lent