Friday, June 21, 2013

Twelfth Sunday of the Year / Proper 7

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Several years ago when I had jury duty I got a real lesson in civics. Not because of the particular trial I was involved in. That was for the most part a ridiculous example of our judicial system at work, short on legal reasoning and long on innuendo.  It was of all things a divorce jury trial and the jury was supposed to assign child custody and divide the common property. Neither party had any business being parents and in the absence of any real evidence we had no business dealing with the property.   But I had forgotten to bring a book and was reduced to wiling away the time in the jury room reading the Magna Carta and the Constitution which were posted on the wall.  

The Magna Carta with its insistence on rule by law, written primarily by Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, very largely witnessed by Archbishops, Bishops and Abbots. insists on the protection of the Church from the state.

The US Constitution in those famous words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,  that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Founding Fathers were actually wrong:  these truths are not self-evident. They were not philosophers, they were lawyers and in Law a self-evident proposition is one which requires no proof or explanation. Obviously what you mean by ‘all men’ and what you mean by ‘equality’ does needs explaining.

Not that I think these truths of the Constitution are untrue. But not everyone in the world accepts these ideas but only those cultures and societies, which have been deeply influenced by Christianity. It is not that you have to be a Christian to accept them – but the ideas expressed are distinctively Christian. The atheist believes them, even if he does not believe in a creator because the atheist, like it or not, has been influenced by the very religion he disdains.

You will not find equality extolled in classical Greek culture: Plato and Aristotle would certainly not only deny that such things are self-evident but also deny that they are true. The world religions do not require these precepts of equality and unalienable rights. Not that Christians have historically been always faithful to these principles but that does not change the fact that that these are particularly and uniquely Christian concepts.

All of which makes it a reasonable question: what happens when democratic states begin to see Christianity not as the inspiration for equality and unalienable rights but the enemy of these lofty principles? I only pose the question.

In any case none of this means that Christians and secular society have identical ideas of equality.  The words of St. Paul in the Epistle to the Galatians are theological and not political, even if there are some Christians who read a political agenda into them.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female.

Paul is not petitioning the Roman Emperor for equal rights and he is not even saying that the Church must be an egalitarian organization. Quite frankly political rights were so off the table at that point that it would never occurred to Paul to demand them. The only thing that would  put these rights on the table was centuries of Christian culture and learning.  Paul knew full well that the Church is hierarchical in her polity precisely because her head is the Kyrios – a title the Roman Emperor had taken but which belonging by divine right only to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is dealing with the theological problem he is always dealing with, namely the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. The point that Paul insisted upon is that ethnicity, economic status, gender cannot keep anyone from being an offspring and heirs of Abraham, “if you belong to Christ.”

As if he knows that we are likely to get this wrong, he says three times:

in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God,

you are all one in Christ Jesus

if you belong to Christ, the you are Abraham’s

What Paul is talking about is being baptized into Christ,  incorporation into Christ, putting on Christ, becoming one people by becoming one with Christ, with His liberty, life and happiness.

For many of our politicians equality is defined by legislation and judicial precedence and they think that there is not the least difficulty in legislating for human beings without knowing what a human being is.

Years ago I ran across somewhere or other a statement by the School of Nursing at the University of St. Thomas in Houston which ought to be put before anyone who stands for or attains public office:

We believe that man is a composite being of body and soul created by God for a supernatural destiny, that he possesses intellect and will and is responsible for his conduct; that he is a social being of intrinsic worth and dignity; and that he has both individual and social needs, rights and responsibilities.

We might not get politicians who believe that but it is good to think that we might get nurses who believe that to care for us, when we are sick.

Be that as it may, the Christian conviction is that equality between men comes not from something we have done or might do but from what God himself has done: our creation in His image and likeness, our redemption in His Son and our destiny which is to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him and enjoy Him forever.

The secular pursuit of equality and rights is largely a matter of justice, giving each one his due. But justice is not what created us, not what redeemed us and not what leads us to heaven. Divine Love did that. Divine Love does that. Divine Love alone will do that.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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