Reflection – Celebrating Diversity

I struggled with the readings from today’s liturgy, so I checked out Antioch in my Atlas of the Bible.  As told in Acts (11-15) and the Epistle to the Galatians, Antioch was the earliest great centre of Gentile Christianity and was, in fact, the first place where the name “Christian” was used.  It was here that Paul clarified his position that non-Jews need not convert to Judaism before becoming Christian.  Men do not need to follow the ritual of Abraham, nor the Mosaic laws surrounding meals.   Although Jesus created the Eucharist at his last Passover seder, kosher rules do not apply to Christians.  Peter was torn between two factions within the Church–that of Paul and that of James–whether to embrace what is new or to protect the traditions that brought us to the present moment.

In the reading from the Apocalypse there is this phrase, “And the sea was no more”, the ‘sea’ being the waters that separate earth from heaven in the great Creation Hymn.  That was accepted scientific theory at the time.  If the waters ‘are no more’, then heaven collapses into earth.  So, everything we know about the Father in Heaven is actually here on earth!  Did this mean Antioch was the new Jerusalem?

Having a firm faith is a tricky business.  When we know that what we believe is true, how do we avoid thinking that others are wrong when they do not see and do things the way we do?  Tragically, Christians have been known to believe that because they were now God’s people, they were superior to all others and when Paul freed Christians from Judaic law, it was interpreted to mean that the Jews had rejected God.  This was not at all what Paul said.  For Paul it was all about what God did, not us.

Some 1500 years later, at the time of Columbus, the Inquisition was in full force.  It was based on the belief that there is only one truth, which is ours, and all who differ from us are wrong.  If they do not submit to our truth, they do not deserve to live.  Independent Women, dissident Christians (heretics) and Jews were targets.  Books were reviewed by officers of the Inquisition and were burned if not approved.  Sadly, today’s reading from Revelation was used to support such thinking and to extend it to the New World.  “Behold the dwelling of God IS with “Anthropon” (translated as ‘men’ until recently changed to ‘humans’) But “they WILL BE His “laoi” (translated as “peoples”).  The Inquisition considered only Christian men to be fully human.  All others were created unequal unless, or until, they were converted.

Paul fought for the freedom of his converts to retain their individual traditions and they incorporated many of them into Christianity.  At the heart of a society that celebrates diversity is the humble acceptance of the limitations of one’s own knowledge.  No one person or group knows it all.  Forgetting that is the definition of arrogant pride.  Jesus opposed that attitude in many different sayings and parables, but we can pretend he was talking to and of others, not ourselves.  It may seem a contradiction, but the unification of difference is the mystery of love.  And where love is, there is God. A bag of marbles can never become one.

Agnes Beirne


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