Today we’re going to discuss our persistent tendency to divide ourselves.
“People should go where they’re comfortable.”
“They have their places of worship; we have ours.”
“It would be too much of a challenge for us to do this—their culture is so different!”
Dividing walls. We make them, even as Christians. We divide ourselves based on ethnic, cultural, racial, and political lines, for comfort and convenience. But Jesus abolished the dividing wall. Ephesians 2:14 says, “He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Jesus prayed for believers to “be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22–23). Do we live this way?
We’re not unique in our propensity to self-segregate. Even with the coming of the Holy Spirit and the founding of the church, ethnic superiority reared its head early on.
In Acts 6, Hellenistic widows—these were Jewish widows who lived in the Greek diaspora, and spoke Greek and not Aramaic—were not being served as well as the Jewish widows.
Acts 15 begins with this: “Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” In other words, these men came down to Antioch saying that in order for Gentiles to be Christian, they had to be Jewish first.
In observing all this, Ephesian believers may have felt insecure. On the outside of their culture. On the outside of their faith.
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). This was the definition of a Gentile, before Christ:
Also: dead (Ephesians 2:5)
Where would their identity be found? In the same place as a Canaanite woman. In Matthew 15:21–28, there’s uncomfortable ethnic tension. Jesus initially ignored the woman asking for help. He asserted that He came for the people of Israel. His disciples asked Jesus to send her away. And then Jesus compared the woman to a dog—a slur and an insult.
What was going on here?
Jesus said He came for Israel, but He was interacting with the woman in Gentile territory. He went there and healed, on purpose. Jesus never said, “become a Jew and I will heal your daughter.” Faith in Jesus, not ethnic identity, was all that mattered. In ancient Near Eastern culture, women and men didn’t interact publicly within their own ethnicities. This woman was scandalous in her crying out to Jesus.
This woman went away with a healed daughter and accolades from the Son of God for her great faith. This woman, who was excluded and without hope, went away blessed because of the love of Jesus.
Jesus knew both the prejudiced hearts of His disciples and Jews in general, and the great faith of the Canaanite woman. Jesus made this point to the disciples: He could save them, and He could save her too. She wasn’t beneath anyone in the eyes of God, even though she was a Gentile. Even though there were centuries of animosity that separated her culture from theirs. Even though she was a woman. Jesus was doing the work of tearing down walls to build up one singular body based on grace through faith. (He is doing it even now.) It was not the disciples’ job to keep out the people crying out for Jesus, or make them jump through ethnic hoops to be more acceptable to them. It was not their job to declare this woman or her demon-possessed daughter dead and hopeless. (It’s not our job, either.) He makes all things new. Including the Canaanite woman and her daughter, the Ephesian church, and us.
We should all remember what we have been saved to, lest we forget that we were dead and hopeless. Remember.