Seeing Differences Too Clearly
We place great stock in being able to see clearly, but as we grow older our vision becomes less distinct. We have to resort to glasses or contact lenses. Eventually many of us come to the place where even these don’t help, and we have to learn to put up with indistinct sight. We find ourselves squinting at objects, trying to figure out what they are. A good friend of mine says he keeps enlarging the size of the type in which he prepares his sermons to avoid wearing his glasses in the pulpit. We can sympathize.
Some people who have good vision may still have trouble seeing things clearly. We say, “He can’t see the forest for the trees” to describe people who get so wrapped up in details that they can’t see the big picture. We describe others as “looking at the world through rose colored glasses” when they only see the positive side of an issue, ignoring what we believe are important negative considerations.
Paul faced a similar situation in writing to the Christian Church at Rome. Most of what he had to say was addressed to Gentile Christians. He was trying to help them understand where they fit in this new religion. Was it a small Jewish sect they had become involved in, or was it bigger than that? Was there room in this tent for all kinds of people, or was it limited to a chosen few? Within Christianity were there hierarchies of acceptance? Perhaps Jewish Christians were on a different level from Gentile Christians. In a society where people of different racial or socioeconomic backgrounds did not mingle, how did this radical new approach work?
Paul wanted to reassure his listeners that there was indeed room for everyone, and that there was no difference in the way people of different backgrounds would be accepted or treated. God might have chosen Israel as God’s people, but that designation did not make any difference within this new religion. “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”
This was a radical statement for Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee who had persecuted the early church, arrested the followers of Jesus and turned them over to the authorities for punishment. We can see how far Paul’s thinking had changed. He had grown from a man who believed in and practiced complete separation of Jews from other races to a big tent person who welcomed all into fellowship with Christ.
He thought the concept important enough to include in his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians. To the Colossians he said, “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, but Christ is all and in all” [italics added]. If Christ is everyone’s Lord, then Christ is in everyone, changing each of us in the same way that Saul became Paul.
Is it possible to see things too clearly? Can we become so clear in our sight that we become unclear in our thinking? Certainly concentrating on the trees so much that we lose sight of the forest would indicate this possibility. If all we see is differences then we can never see how we are related. We miss out on being joined together in Christ and being welcomed into the big tent God has erected for all of God’s people.
To the Galatians Paul went even farther. In addition to no differences between Jew and Greek, he says there are no differences between male and female. We might add that, in Christ, there are no differences between black and white, or Asian and Hispanic, or between Republicans and Democrats—or is that going too far?