But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Beroea as well, they came there too, to stir up and incite the crowds. -- Acts 17:13
As was Paul's custom during the early years of his preaching, he first went into the Jewish synagogue upon entering a village, in order to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to those who were seeking the Messiah. In this way, some came to believe in Jesus. But, in Thessalonica, some Jews "became jealous" and incited a mob to seek out and destroy Paul and Silas, and other believers. These men even went so far as to drive them from the next town over.
This story in Acts perfectly illustrates what I have been reading about in Miroslav Volv's "Exclusion & Embrace." (1996) We all have, to greater or lesser degree, at various times, the desire to exclude people who are different from us. Exclusive behavior can vary from being quite passive to being extremely aggressive, but no exclusive behavior is ever benign. For example, looking the other way, or ignoring, someone who is different from us, though passive, is nevertheless hurtful to the one being ignored. In extreme examples of exclusion, we drive out, or murder.
Paul himself, only a few years before, was on the other side, driving out, and imprisoning, Christians. He even went from one town to the next, like these men. If we think that becoming a Christian makes one automatically above this kind of behavior, then we need only remember the crusades, reservations, ghettos, concentration camps, Nagasaki and Hiroshima -- the list goes on and on, unfortunately. Nor are other groups of people, religious or non-religious, immune from this extreme kind of exclusive behavior. Excluding what is other has been happening since the beginning of time.
We know that this is not right behavior. So how do we stop it? Perhaps it might help to know what lies behind the desire to exclude. Miroslav Volv proposes several reasons, among which are: we see wrongfulness, or sin, in the other, but do not recognize that we carry this same sin within ourselves, and so we pass judgment in an effort to appear "pure" and "sinless"; we are fearful that boundaries may be blurred or dismantled altogether if we include the other, and worry about where new boundaries, if any, will be placed; and/or, we choose to serve our own interests for land, power, wealth, etc., and must take them away from others in order to gain for ourselves (p.77). There may be more reasons. All of these reasons, however, have one thing in common. They all show a preoccupation with defining our own identity, over and above the identity of the other.
Many of the teachings of Jesus came to mind as I read Miroslav Volv's reasons: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not see the log in your own?; "And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying... God knows that you need them. Seek first the kingdom of God"; and "You cannot serve God and mammon both". These are just a few examples, but I think it is safe to say that throughout his whole ministry, Jesus tried to teach us to live in a different way.
The question is, Can we learn to do things differently?
Well, there is hope. If Paul, who describes himself as "being zealous for God" in his persecution of Christians "up to the point of death" (Acts 22:3-4), can undergo such a complete transformation, perhaps we all can. For, Paul did not simply switch allegiances, and go after Jews. The way he saw himself and all other people changed as well. By the time he wrote the Letter to the Romans, he was able to see himself as no different than those who persecuted him. All were/are sinners. And so, as he was loved by God in Jesus Christ, he was to love others in return. This is the greatest commandment: Love others as I have loved you.
Dear God, thank you for being the light in a world of darkness. May your light shine on us, and glow within us, so that we may help to illuminate all the corners of the world. Love always, Pam