THIS READING CAME UP a week or so ago on the Feast of St Simon and his buddy. It’s been a bit of a wrestling match since then. Getting along with Christians who disagree with us is part of this (that’s where our preacher took it last Friday). But it’s the relationship between our elder brothers, the Jews who follow Messiah, that interests me most here.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19-22 (RSVCE)
St Paul wrote this in 60 or 62 AD. And here we are nearly 2000 years later. So, by way of reminder: Paul is writing to a community made of of Jews and Gentiles who, together, have come to believe the Jesus is the Messiah long promised to the people of Israel. In this belief, they (Jews and Gentiles together) are worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. These two groups feud a bit, ok. But here’s the rub. I think we hear it backwards today.
The issue with Jews and Gentiles was not only “should Gentiles become Jewish first…” (ie, get circumcised, etc). We can read it in Galatians as if it’s Gentiles doing Jewish things because they don’t feel on equal footing to be actually following the Jewish Messiah. Paul calls them, “You Foolish Galatians” for this. Who bewitched you? So some (at least – more? all?) of what Paul is writing is to Gentiles who do not need the courage to face off against the “Judaizers” but rather they need to be assured – in their own faith – that they are worthy to stand why they are. Remember, last week (hyperbolically) these Gentiles were killing bulls for the Magna Mater and offering incense to Caesar. Now they are following YHVH. What do they need to do? Nothing other than believe in Jesus. Paul says he used to persecute the Church and now he’s an apostle! How are we good enough?
In other words, what if Judaizing was the “pastoral accompanying” of the 1st century? You don’t feel good enough? We can make things easier for you: let me get my knife, and give up your bacon and sausage as well…
Paul assures the Gentiles that they, “are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God”. This must refer to the covenanted household of Israel. There’s only a handful of Gentile believers in the world. There’s not even one generation of dead Christians yet. There’s about 2000-3000 of them (Gentiles and Jews together) at this point, honestly. Unless Paul means to limit that “household of God” to those 2500 people, then he’s reassuring his Gentile flock that they have been united to something much bigger than themselves. In Romans he will remind Gentiles that they have been grafted into Israel. It’s we (I’m a gentile, too) who are outsiders here, strangers, aliens. And Paul is telling us that through Jesus, we’re good enough to be here.
A lot of times when I hear these verses expounded they usually get read to be about the Jews trying to make us do things “like them”. It never gets around to the possibility it was Gentiles were not feeling included from our side; because of our own insecurity. Paul seems to be saying, Look, in Yeshua we’re all in this together. Gentiles have been united to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are no longer strangers in Israel. Mind you, I know that Jews would disagree with this reading soundly. But some good part of this is based on 2000 years of Gentile bully of Jews. Romans, for example, reads more as if Gentiles were trying to bully Jews into eating bacon. And Paul has to remind his Gentile followers that they have been grafted in and they can be cut out again, too.
Personally, it feels as if sometimes a fascination with “Jewish Roots” can be a type of envy: I have no history, no tribe, no culture other than that of a white, middle class, American male. Because of the chaos of the last few decades, I’m not really tied to “American” except by a reference to a common mythology about cherry trees and fireworks. What my grandparents fought for as “freedom” is deemed nearly-fascist oppression now. Persons born in the last 20 years would feel overly burdened by even my parents’ generational ideas of “gender roles”. And, even embedded in the culture, some are honest enough to admit it’s only about marketing. So, being disconnected from the past by our current world – but rejecting the present as hopelessly silly – I have no culture. From the 90s on, I’ve sought one: ancient religions, ancient languages, even ancient clothing. Gentiles of the 1st and 2nd Century AD would have been in the same boat: entirely cut off from their pagan past and their pagan present, they tried latching on to Judaism as a cultural home. It makes perfect sense. Here, at last, was a culture, traditions, language, and a people of which God fully approved. Heck, he (God) even spoke in Hebrew at the Creation of the World.
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי־אוֹר׃
And God said, “yhee ohr”. See? He spoke Hebrew.
So why not convert to this culture as well as this religion?
But to retreat into this culture is to miss the boat entirely. God set up Israel, by Covenant, as a sacrament for the whole world; a sign and a reminder of the Eden that was – and was lost – and the Eden that will be in the World to Come. In Messiah, we Gentiles partake fully of that sacrament. We become not the sacrament but the presence itself. You are what you eat, but when we take communion we don’t become only more bread, but rather Jesus. And more ourselves as God intends.
Israel was the Host in the Monstrance. Now we eat, partake, and go out into the world to do the Gospel. The temple is no longer only in Jerusalem but in all the world.
We are grafted in. And in the grafting, the whole tree is changed.