The Good Word  

 December 1994
This story is about a group of schoolchildren who are given placards with occupations or titles on them.  Such as: astronaut, mother, teacher, athlete, janitor, baby, dentist, etc.  The children are to organize themselves according to their importance or value.

After much contention over places in line, the problem is resolved by joining hands and forming a circle.  Thus the children learn that each has their own importance and value.  But how to make the lesson stick?  The gospel . . .

In the time and place of Jesus, society was rigidly divided by class distinctions.  There was a privileged elite that held the power and wealth of society.  This power and wealth also conferred dignity and respect.  There was a small middle class: tradesmen, artisans and a few others who could live a life of relative comfort and honor, if not opulence.  Jesus, as a carpenter, and Peter, as a fisherman, were members of this middle class.

Finally, there were the vast "unwashed masses".  These peoples' faces were ground with oppression and poverty . . . with little dignity and not much hope for respect.  These were the laborers, servants and members of despised occupations, like tax collectors.

This evil system was accepted, endorsed and promoted by secular (Roman) and religious (Jewish) authorities alike.  But Christ, and later his followers, challenged this system at its root.

In a day when no one considered associating out of their "class", Jesus freely stooped to publicly fellowship with undesireables.  Remember the prostitute that anointed him with oil and wiped his feet with her hair?

        The Pharisee . . . said to himself,
            "If this man were a prophet
        he would know what kind of woman
            she is - that she is a sinner."
                                        [Luke 7:39]

And Zacchaeus, the tax collector that invited Jesus to lunch?

        All the people . . . began to mutter,
            "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
                                        [Luke 19:7]

How about the Samaritan woman at the well?

        Jews do not associate with Samaritans. [John 4:9]

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were confident that they were roundly condemning Jesus when they said:

        "This man welcomes sinners."[Luke 15:2]

What a great gospel sermon.  To the Pharisee, anyone who didn't measure up to their "class" was a sinner.  And the line must be clearly drawn.  Thus, the host of burdensome rules.  Rules that were, for the most part, unconcerned with real sin (oppression of your fellows).  Rules rather that drew lines and built walls of partition between man and man, class and class.

Jesus smashed these wicked conventions by his practices.  The gospel teaching of the epistles shows why.  For example:

        There is neither Jew nor Greek,
            slave nor free, male or female,
                for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
                                                    [Galatians 3:28]

        He himself is our peace,
            who has made the two one
                and has destroyed the barrier,
                    the dividing wall of hostility . . .
                        His purpose was to create in himself
                            one new man out of the two.[Ephesians 2:14,15]

This oneness [John 17:11] does not come from hammering each of us into a religious mold. [1 Corinthians 12]  Efforts at uniformity are actually divisive.  We are one because we share him.  That is, we share Jesus.

This doesn't mean that I absorb some of Jesus into me and you absorb some of him into you, and by matching these pieces we feel drawn together.  No.  No.  Never.  In fact, it is just the opposite of this common "likeness" program, a program that leads to ranking of religious status and thereby causes division.

        When they measure themselves
            by themselves and compare themselves
                with themselves, they are not wise.
                                                [2 Corinthians 10:12]

It is not absorption of Jesus that leads to oneness, unity and equality, but absorption by Jesus.  Jesus absorbed us 2000 years ago.  It is because we share this great salvation event that we are one.  We share something outside of ourselves, and take our value from that common, objective valuable.  This outside of me, and outside of you, valuable makes us one.  And Jesus Christ is that valuable.

If the good that I have (by faith) is outside of me (in Jesus Christ) and the good that you have (by faith) is outside of you (in Jesus Christ) then the good that we have is the same good (Jesus Christ).  Therefore we are equal in goodness and value.

Away then with false pride (I'm better than you) or stupid self depreciation (you're better than me).  Only God is good and valuable.  We can all be proud of that!

Your friend, Herb Sorensen