People Are People
Have you heard? The dividing walls of hostility have been broken down.
People are people before they are any identifier, category, or box I try to put them in. Many of my boxes for people have come crashing down because of my international work and my relationships with people. It's been one of the best, most beneficial things that's ever happened to me, and it's also blown the lid off of how I experience God and His love for people.
There are some very socially acceptable boxes for people. Have you noticed? Here are some popular ones: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, male, female, LGBTQ, straight, disabled, Asian, client, therapist, student, professor, etc. Our blinders may make life more cut-and-dry, but they prevent us from seeing people as first and foremost essentially human. Human beings, at their essence, are humans. We have so many socially acceptable ways of dehumanizing each other.
Any time my perspective is reduced to "us" and "them," I have made a false distinction, a dividing wall of hostility, and I confess that I catch myself doing it all the time.
With so much sectarian violence in the world - and yes, including in the Middle East - we see people killing other people based on these identifiers. Sunnis and Shiites. Catholics and Protestants. Christians and Muslims. Tutsis and Hutus. Israelis and Palestinians. Dividing walls of hostility. Sometimes we erect physical dividing walls to divide the "groups" from each other. Sometimes we just erect dividing walls in human hearts. Both can kill. I am not meaning to distill the distinguishing beliefs or characteristics of these groups; I am meaning to elevate the common humanity inherent to people of any group, to color across the lines.
There is hope available to all of us in Jesus. Though the context of this verse applies to Gentiles and Jews, the scriptures say: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near." (Ephesians 2:13-17)
I see in the cross that the body of Jesus was broken down, and in this process He broke down the dividing walls that we have felt necessary to place between ourselves and other people. What could be more offensive than that I am just like them, I am no better or worse than my enemy or friend, and we have an equal desperate need for Christ and all that He accomplished on the cross? His broken body breaks down these dividing walls of our world, these reasons we have found to decry and desecrate each other. In the case of the Middle East, we have often decried and desecrated each other in God's name, by the way.
His ministry is to reconcile us to Himself, and in His heart I discover all the people He loves - put simply, all people. No conditions. No qualifiers. He preached peace to me while I was yet far off.
For those of us who identify as followers of Christ, there is a tempting dividing wall that we sometimes ascribe to; it draws a line between "believers" and "nonbelievers" (or unbelievers, pre-believers, etc.). The allure of this paradigm is that it seems to sift people from an eternal or spiritual perspective. The lie here is that people need to check the Jesus box before they can be like me. People are people; we are all like each other, though in varying degrees of relationship with Christ, varying saturations of an intimacy with Him. There are infinite grays in this spectrum and every color you can imagine; it is a beautiful reality in perpetual motion. Yes, in Christ, we are a new creation; but we sometimes act as though this reality is an an on-or-off lightswitch rather than a dimmer switch that moves at varying speed depending upon His working and willing within me and my yielding in response over time. There are degrees of light in any of us. Even when I am a new creation in Christ, that instantaneously new creation is being appropriated over time to be made manifest. We are all conformed to His image, but the process is stretched out over the canvas of time.
Christ is having a conversation with every single human being I meet, regardless of their identifiers, regardless of whether they have checked the Jesus box or not. Jesus did not leave his followers with the charge: "Go therefore and make Christians of all nations..."
or "Go therefore and make converts of all nations..."
It was "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19)
If He is truly enthroned above the nations, then we sit at His feet together, discipled and taught by Him, regardless of whether we can perceive that or not. When I divide people into believers and nonbelievers, I create a false distinction and accidentally feed my own self-righteousness. I was a sinner saved by grace, but now I am a saint who sometimes sins; but this sainthood is a gift that Jesus won for me on the cross, and He has won it for everyone around me as well, though many people don't even know that they have a gift waiting for them yet (no one has told them, or perhaps it is too offensively good to seem true). All of us are in various stages of accepting and unwrapping this gift in our earthly lives, we are all in this boat together, like mummies whose bandages are sloughing off over time.
Another lie inherent to the believers/unbelievers paradigm is that the core of my identity is as a Christian. My identity is not found in Christianity. My identity is found in Christ alone. And there is a big difference. Christ did not come to create a religion called Christianity (we humans did that and still do, in His name). Christ is a person, and He is divine, and He is alive. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life - the religion we have built as a house of cards in His name is not alive. One of my increasingly favorite quotes is "The greatest enemy to the movement of Jesus Christ is Christianity" (Erwin McManus). The global Church is His bride, but She is a living, breathing, beautifully intentional reality of people - not a building, not an activity we do, not a programmatic hamster wheel, not a show we produce at the same time same channel each week.
Christ exalted as central means that He is not peripheral to the labels I would place on people He loves. In other words, there is only Christ and people in our varying degrees of relationship with Him.