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On the Areopagus - 12 Neither Jew nor Greek ... a multicultural world

Sunday, February 22, 2009

We find ourselves reminded several times in the letters of St Paul (Rm 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11) that there is no longer Jew or Greek; in other words, the racial distinctions made by the Jewish law no longer have a place in Christianity.

At one level, this could be interpreted as referring only to the Church: it is clear that there were disagreements in the Church of the first century about whether non-Jews who became Christians should be obliged to observe the whole Jewish law – in other words, whether, in order to become a Christian you had first to become a Jew – and it is equally clear that St Paul believes this is not the case: Christ’s sacrifice has fulfilled the old law, doing away with the distinction between Jews and Greeks and uniting all who follow him in his body, the Church. Although we no longer have the same particular question to deal with, St Paul’s teaching reminds us of the truly universal nature of the Church, where people of all nations are called to share together as equals in the heavenly banquet.

At the same time, by noting that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, St Paul is also perhaps reminding us that we are first of all ‘fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:19): whatever national culture we might hold as our own through birth, that Christian culture which encompasses and sanctifies all human cultures and which has become ours through baptism is that to which we most fundamentally belong.

Indeed, looking more closely at these texts from the Pauline epistles, it becomes clear that St Paul is not talking only about the Church: Christ’s sacrifice has changed the whole world. In the renewal of creation which Christ’s death and resurrection effected, there is no longer a privileged path to God for those of a certain race: all are called to share God’s love in Christ. As for the Church, so for the world: on the one hand, it is clear that people of all cultures are called to live together in unity, and to avoid putting up artificial barriers.

On the other hand, the unity to which we are called is precisely unity in Christ, and we must not be afraid to challenge an ideology of multiculturalism which treats religion simply as part of a broader culture: this would imply that in a multicultural society, just as its various constitutive cultures are considered equally valid, so should the various religious beliefs found there be treated. Instead we must insist on the teaching of St Paul that the Gospel of redemption Christ offers is for people of all cultures, for in his new creation ‘there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all’ (Col 3: 11).

Gregory Pearson OP


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