Thursday 28 September 2023

Breaking Down the Wall

For he is our peace;
in his flesh he has made both groups into one 
and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is, the hostility between us.

—Ephesians 2:14

Throughout his letters, the apostle Paul is deeply concerned with unity. Jesus Messiah is our peace, he tells the church in Ephesus, and in Jesus Messiah we are—somehow—all one. But what does it mean for us to be one in Jesus Messiah?

One way to answer this question is to emphasize sameness. In Jesus Messiah, our differences no longer define us, for through his redemptive suffering and victory over death we are all made equal. While I think there is some truth in interpreting what Paul means by unity in this way, I remain convinced that the gospel’s deeper message is one that affirms rather than denies basic human difference.

1 Corinthians 12 offers a wonderful example of such an affirmation of difference. The chapter opens describing the variety of spiritual gifts with which God has blessed humankind. Next comes Paul’s insistence that the one body of Christ has “many members” (see vss. 12, 14). All these members contribute—through their difference—to the unity of the body of Christ. “If all were a single member,” Paul asks, “where would the body be?” (vs. 19). There would be no body at all, Paul insists, if all the parts were the same.

If, as we have just seen, Paul does not understand the basic fact of human difference to be problematic (to the contrary!), why does he remain so concerned with unity? Paul’s image of “the dividing wall” in Ephesians 2 tells us that his concern may not be to reduce difference to sameness, but rather to get us to see how in Jesus Messiah we might imagine and hope for an end to division and hostility—unity understood as solidarity rather than as uniformity. The unity of Jesus Messiah is peace, and that is the spirit through which we must approach our differences.

Scripture recognizes and affirms that we are given to each other in our uniqueness and difference, that our differences are the very gifts through which we might bless one another. From that basis, we are called to the unity that Jesus Messiah’s suffering love has revealed to us—to use our heads, hearts, and hands to imagine and realize all the different ways we belong to each other in and through our differences and, through that work and play of belonging, care for each other as well as the world we hold in common.

That we live in a broken world hardly needs emphasizing, and sometimes it is hard to see God’s redeeming hand at work healing, restoring, and transforming all the suffering we find in the world today. It takes no small faith to trust and participate in God’s work of renewal, but with the gift of such faith we can encounter difference without fear, confident that we will be able to find signs of God’s original blessing in everything we meet, in everything God made.

At ICS, we like to say that “the Gospel’s message of renewal shapes our pursuit of wisdom.” I can think of no better way to start a new school year than by reminding ourselves of everything these words might demand of us. It is not always easy or comfortable to approach difference and unfamiliarity in the Spirit of Jesus Messiah. It is a task that requires enormous patience and humility, calling for deep listening on our part before rushing to judgment—in a word: wisdom. Thank you for helping us be a school that strives to approach difference in this way—without fear, and confident that God’s healing path will present itself to us as we do so!

Shalom, my friends,

Ron Kuipers