Fifth Week of Lent | Amanda Miller
Psalms 131, 132, 133
One topic that students in my Bible classes often discuss is the question of the “Other” in the biblical text and in our world today—the question of living, working and worshipping with those who are different from us. This seems to be a constant struggle for us as humans; it is always easier to divide rather than unite, and to demonize another group rather than get to know them for who they truly are: individuals created, loved and valued by God.
In today’s reading from Romans, Paul is trying to help the early Christian communities of Rome as they struggle with the relationship between Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) followers of Christ, and the relationship between Judaism and its new sect that eventually came to be known as Christianity. Paul himself spent much of his life and ministry wrestling with this important question (see, e.g., most of his letter to the Galatians).
A little history is helpful here. The earliest groups of Jesus-followers in the city of Rome sprang from the synagogues, and were almost certainly of Jewish descent. But when the emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome in 49 C.E., that edict included these early Christians. The few Gentile members of the Christian communities had to step up and take leadership if they were to survive. But when the Jews (and Jewish Christians) were allowed back into Rome after Claudius’ death in 54 C.E., there was, inevitably, considerable tension in the early churches as the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus had to reintegrate with one another. Paul tries to address this issue by arguing that Jewish and Gentile Christians actually help each other to fuller faith. Diversity within the body of Christ is something to be celebrated, rather than avoided.
While we may not agree today with all the specifics of Paul’s argument, the concept that really catches my attention in Romans is the breaking down of boundaries among God’s people. As we approach Holy Week and its commemoration of Jesus’ death as the ultimate “Other,” we are reminded that we have the power and unfortunate tendency to exclude and push people into the category of the Other, even to the point of death. But let’s also remember that we have the power—and a call from God—to unite with those who are different, to learn from one another and to work together to make Jesus’ vision of a better world a reality for all people.
AMANDA C. MILLER
Assistant Professor, School of Religion