11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.
17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
There was an actual Temple barrier in Jerusalem. “Interpretations of purity laws resulted in Gentiles being excluded from the court of Israel (for Jewish men) and even the less pure court of women (for Jewish women). Christians in… Ephesus would know that Paul was in Roman custody because he had been accused of bringing an Ephesian Gentile beyond the temple’s outer court (Acts 21:27–29).”* Christ came to bring us together in the church community—no walls, no strangers or outcasts.
Lord Jesus, you are God’s anointed one, the Prince of Peace. Tear down any barriers of hatred in my heart that keep me from caring about all of your beloved children. Amen.
* HarperCollins Christian Publishing. NIV, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, eBook: Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture (Kindle Locations 268229-268232). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Sometimes it’s harder to welcome the “near stranger” than the “far stranger.” The “near stranger” is the person we already know, who is part of our group, and who nevertheless seems like a stranger in their political views, their vaccine status, their voting patterns or their social commitments. It’s the people we share church with that are sometimes the hardest to welcome, to embrace as sibling, to recognize as a beloved child of God. Especially when they vote differently or hold different views of God than I do.
In Ephesians 2 Paul is addressing precisely this experience: the difficulty of life together when some Christians are Jews and others are Greeks, when some Christians are slaves and others are not, when some Christians are circumcised and some Christians are not (gentile). He’s not talking about receiving the “far stranger” or the non-Christian, but the “near stranger.”
At times, it’s easier for me to care about refugees or the strangers far away, to be generous and welcoming to those outside my group. Sometimes it seems easier for progressive Christians to welcome Muslims than to welcome evangelical Christians and vice versa.
How can Christian community hold all of us, with our troubled differences and frequent distrust of one another? Paul reminds us that our common life as Christians does not depend on us all agreeing on everything. The good news is not that we all agree. The good news is that “you who were far away from God, who were strangers and aliens,” are now “God’s people and you belong to God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19). Jesus shows us the way--it is God’s wide and abundant Life that scoops us all up and holds us all our lives, making us all family within God’s household (oikos).
Today, notice a near stranger. Imagine them, sitting next to you, at God’s household table, even while you still disagree. Enjoy the feast!
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