Galatians 3 : 26 – 29
‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
All people are equal.
Now there is nothing new about this, is there? But when you really understand the implications of our being equal, this becomes a radically new idea!
I am sure that if you were in a large gathering of people, in a busy shopping centre or at a major sporting event (as long as it wasn’t a footy game involving Collingwood!); and you asked people randomly if they believe everybody is of equal value and worth, you would find very few people disagreeing with this idea.
Equality is a foundational value of most western democracies.
It is foundational for our democratic system of government.
But what very few people in western nations ever consider, or ask, is: ‘where does this idea of equality come from?’ ‘Why do we believe that all people are equal?’
However, in saying this, we must understand two realities …
- While we may say and believe that all people are equal, our society rarely treats people equally!
It is an idea we aim for, but mostly fail to live out; either personally or in community. But while it is true that we fail to embrace this value, this does not mean we don’t inwardly believe that it is a value we ought to hold and embrace in life.
2.But while all people are equal, this does not mean that all ideas are equal.
Everyone has equal value, but the values and ideals we may hold are not equal. Just think of some of the evil ideas people have sought to carry out over the centuries. Like the ethnic cleansing of communities, undertaken by Hitler, Pol Pot or the more recent actions of the Myanmar military against the Rohingya minorities. Or even our own interactions with our Indigenous people. In communities where we hold people as equal, purging a society or an ethnic group due to their heritage is simply appalling. The people who push these attitudes and actions are of equal value, but we do not give their ideas equal value.
Now, if you were to ask why we think people are equal, the answer will usually be: ‘this is what everyone thinks; and this is what everyone has always thought! But neither of these responses is true!
The reality is: people have not always treated everyone as equal!
During the time of Jesus, the Greco-Roman world did not believe people were of equal value and worth. the well known Greek philosophers, Aristotle and Plato did not believe all people were equal. Aristotle believed there were subclasses within society, where the lower classes of slaves existed to serve the upper classes.
The term he used for these slaves was neither ‘male’ nor ‘female’. They were non-persons! He believed people were born into that role. They were the property of their owners. Literally: ‘living tools’. In his mind slaves were much like working animals, for they both, with their bodies, served the needs of life.
Now, how would you like to be reduced to a ‘thing – a living tool’, for others to use?God’s own Son, Jesus, came into this world of structural inequality!
Teaching and treating all people he encountered with equal dignity and worth.
Around the world there are many communities with structural inequality.
If a nation chooses to follow the Hindu teaching, the logical outcome will be structural inequality. That is underpinned by two key ideas …
- Firstly, through reincarnation – where every soul returns again and again.
- Secondly, your behaviour in each life will impact your place in the next life. This is what is called ‘karma’. So, upper class Brahmins feel justified in their privileges, because this reflects their past life. Theirs is a culture where inequality is ‘institutionalized’ through the religious philosophy and teaching.
So why then, did Jesus and the early church treat people equally?
Where did this idea come from?
It is really an Old Testament concept from the Jewish faith which is now foundational to what we as Christians believe. The creation story in Genesis tells us that: ‘God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27) Every human being has God’s own signature on them!
All of Scripture repeats and echoes this idea. You are of worth because God made you. You are precious, because you reflect God’s own image. You are loved, because God promises to be with you.
It doesn’t matter whether you are brilliant, powerful and wealthy, or whether you are poor, disabled, or unable to contribute in some ways, before God you are of equal worth. So this principle of everyone being equal must be what we believe. It must be what we hold on to and promote in the world.
The beautiful words of Psalm 139 reinforce this concept of equality … (Psalm 139:13-16)
“For you (God) created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
It is helpful to remember that equality became the foundation for modern democracies like the United States of America. In their Declaration of Independence, it boldly states …
‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all people are created equal.’
Jesus taught and treated people as if they were equal.
At a time when people believed in inequality; Jesus taught equality!
He tells us the: ‘Parable of the lost sheep.’ The shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep and goes after the one lost. In a powerful way this teaches us that everyone matters and all are precious to him because they are equally valued. Every single one is precious – eternally precious.
In John’s gospel, Jesus also outlines the two ways a shepherd cares for his sheep …
- One is the common pen for holding sheep in the village overnight.
A number of different shepherds would come in from the fields with their sheep for the night. They were kept in a common holding pen until the next morning. Each shepherd would call his sheep. Recognizing the shepherd’s voice, they would follow, for they knew and trusted their own shepherd.
- The other is where the shepherd is with his sheep, in the countryside for a number of days.
The shepherd would build a small holding pen from sticks and branches. There was no door to the pen, so the shepherd lay across the opening through which the sheep came and went. He was their protector.
The apostle Paul reminds us that we are all one in Jesus.
All the barriers of class and status are broken down and destroyed. In Jesus, we are all equal.
These structural inequalities of the Greco-Roman world remind us that now everything is changed. In Jesus! ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave of free, male or female, for we are all one in Jesus!’
So what does equality look like in our lives?
It begins with our attitude. Considering and treating everyone as equal. ‘Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God,’ we are told. (Romans 15:7) Accept the lonely, the poor, the sick, the unemployed and the homeless. Accept them, as in Jesus, God lovingly accepts you.
Do that in your life today? When we treat all people equally, we bring praise to God!