19 October 2012Ephesians 2:11-22
"For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus make peace." (vv. 14-15)
For this writer, and in the Jewish mindset, the world is divided into Jews and Gentiles (non Jews); those marked by circumcision and those not; those born into the tradition and those not; those bound by the covenant and those not. According to the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), separation from the surrounding cultures, particularly in exile, was an important way in which the people of Israel remembered that they belonged to God: they did not intermarry; they did not share meals or crockery with others; they did not worship local gods. Their laws and ordinances governed all of this.
Radically though, this Jewish writer is trying to reach out to Gentiles. His warrant for doing this is the cross of Christ (verse 13). The cross is a real leveller: both Jews and Gentiles are in need of Christ's sacrifice (blood verse 13) in order that they might be reconciled to each other. Christ belongs both to those who were already near (the Jews) and to those further away (the Gentiles) (verse 17). In the light of this new dawn the old laws and ordinances become irrelevant (verse 15). Now Jews and Gentiles may marry and eat and worship together in Christ.
It is difficult to read verses like these in the post-Holocaust world. Words which were intended to bring different ethnic groups together within a divided church have been used to sanction or even incite genocide in the name of Christ. Arguments have been made that verse 15 and others like it imply that God has abandoned God's own covenant with the continuing Jewish community. Other verses have been used to brand the Jews 'Christ-killers' and justify Christian anti-Semitism. As we read verse 15, though, it is important to read also verse 19 in which the writer implies that the Gentiles are being grafted into a living tradition with its roots in the prophets. It is important for us always to remember also that the Christ spoken of here is same Jesus who broke all kinds of taboos in order to share with others the rich relationship with God he had learned within faithful Judaism.
- What governs your attitudes towards the continuing Jewish community?
- How can Christians be faithful witnesses to Christ, and (yet) be people who break down walls of hostility rather than building them up?
- In what contexts might you be called to be an agent of reconciliation?
Bible notes author