Wednesday May 27, 2020
1 Corinthians 9:20-23 20 When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. 21 When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.
22 When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. 23 I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
Galatians 3:26-29 26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.
Archeologists digging up early human relics have found a progression that seems universal. Before people learned how to plant food crops, human tribes migrated. They left no permanent living places. Diggers find campfire sites, refuse pits, animal bones, and stone tools. They do not find house foundations.
After grain cultivation began, settlements with permanent structures were built. Early settlements all over the world shared a common pattern. There was no sign of social hierarchy. All the dwellings were similar in size. Graves held similar artifacts, beads or pottery, for example.
But as time passed, social hierarchy emerged. More recent settlements have larger houses in more central locations and graves in these areas contain more costly artifacts. Archeologists call these ‘signs of elites’. Graves associated with smaller houses have bones showing clear arthritis, bone wear due to heavy labor. There seems to be an inevitable rise of the haves and the have-nots. Have-nots do the work and haves get the benefits.
This progression is evident in the Bible. When the Israelites first drove out the tribes living in Canaan, they tried to avoid social hierarchy. God was to be their leader and there was no need for human elites to control them. Their first political act was to divide the land so everyone had a portion. That way there would not be rich and poor classes. Every tribe and family would have a relatively similar place to call their own.
This did not last. By 700 BC, Israel was ruled by hereditary kings with standing armies, a wealthy elite was living lavishly, and most of the population were living as tenant farmers on large estates.
There is something in human nature that strives for power and wealth and status. Something that is willing to bribe, bully, and oppress others to get more power, wealth, and status. This is a fertile field for Satan and has been for a long time.
And then Jesus Christ entered this world. Jesus revealed what people needed to do to be ready for the eternal life that follows this life. Becoming elite was not helpful preparation. In fact, being elite works against proper preparation.
Here is what Jesus faced. Elitism was rampant. In fact, it was widely seen to be a virtue. The Roman system was built entirely on elitism. It is called ‘patronage’. Economic, political, and legal power was distributed from the top down. The Roman emperor owns everything. He becomes the ‘patron’ of underlings to whom he grants power, wealth, and authority in exchange for their obedience and loyalty. They in turn become patrons of the next level down who receive power, wealth, and authority in exchange for obedience and loyalty. This repeats down to the lowest serf.
Israel reflected this system. The Sadducees were at the top of the social ladder. Excavations show that their houses were a dozen times as large as those of commoners. They were also on top of the religious ladder and were in control of the high priest and the temple establishment. Their religious rivals, the Pharisees, also sought social status. Jesus criticized their love of showy apparel and desire for respectful treatment.
I’ve spent a lot of time here to emphasize how radical Jesus’ teaching was about social hierarchy. What a mountain elitism was (and is) to move. Equality among people was nowhere; Jesus taught that it should be everywhere. Yes, there would always be poor. But the poor were not to be despised. They were to be honored and helped by others who had greater means. They were not to be relegated to a low rung on a social ladder. In heaven, they may well be first.
In the meditation scriptures above, Paul makes clear that differences in wealth, status, nationality, and culture are not measures of value to God. He was willing to live by whatever customs and culture enabled people to listen to him. He knew everyone is loved by God and is offered a place in heaven. Individual belief and behavior and relationship, not social position, is valued by God.
Here are examples. The 9/11 attacks highlighted the heroism and value of firefighters. Firemen were not at the top of the social hierarchy, but it made no difference in our respect and admiration for them. Now the Covid epidemic has highlighted the heroism and value of healthcare workers. This group ranges from high status doctors to minimum wage orderlies. It makes no difference in our appreciation for them. All of them are heroes. This is how God values all people. This is how we should see all people. Not according to social status but according to faith and behavior and character.
Let us pray for our healthcare workers. Let us apply this insight to all people. Let us love all people as God loves them. Let us pray for all people. Let us relate to all people as equal in value before God. In this way, we will be most able to spread the good news. In this way we will be following the ‘law of Christ’ and able ‘to be heirs and receive God’s promises’. Amen.
-Pastor Douglas Donigian
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