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Scandalous Christianity

This is our hope. By the one Spirit, we receive one baptism Eph by means of which we are incorporated into the one body. Finally, the body is constituted as the one family of God, who is our one and only Father Eph This is our identity as Christians: one body. And we must become what we are. The Christian community, therefore, must be one. If the various Churches, given the historical, cultural, economic and cultural factors, cannot be united, at least one can exhort that our small faith communities, our religious congregations, our presbyteriums, and our very own Christian families should exhibit that vocation: to show our unity with God in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.

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And how is that unity demonstrated? The gospel John , which relates the episode of the feeding of the multitude, teaches us that at least we can express that unity in the liturgy and in our concrete day-to-day life. There is no doubt that in the gospel reading, John takes the narrative not as a miracle story, unlike the synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke , but as a sign semeion , a vehicle in the revelation of Jesus as the bread-giver for the life of the world.

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As such, it points to the Eucharist. To know the Eucharist—Jesus himself the giver of life, one must examine the episode. Just as in the past God fed his people with manna in the desert, so Jesus feeds his people now in the Eucharist. The feeding of the Eucharist, in other words, is a sign that we are the one family of God. Thus, our gathering around the one table is a demonstration that we all belong to the one body of Christ. It is for this reason that when we come to the Eucharistic Celebration, we do so not to pray alone or together, but we do so in order to act out who we are: one people celebrating the death of the Lord 1 Cor which constituted us into one family of God.

The Eucharistic Celebration is therefore a communal celebration. It is not a collection of people praying at the same time. But the unity that we celebrate in the Eucharist is to spill over to our everyday life.

The Scandal at the Heart of the Christian Faith

As Christians, we cannot close ourselves to our brothers and sisters in need. Our unity is displayed in our solidarity with the poorer members of the Christian community. A great scandal that members of faith communities, congregations, presbyteriums, and our families can create is to refuse to share their wealth with their lesser members, at the same time celebrate with them the Eucharist. Paul stresses this point well.

For him, such a practice is a contempt for one body of Christ, and a dishonor to the poor. Do you show contempt for the church of God and makes those who have nothing feel ashamed? That is why, in the Gospel, the five barley loaves were shared, and all—not just a few—had their fill. Seeing their loved ones on the verge of being slaughtered, the Sabine daughters rush onto the battlefield, pleading that the combat cease, lest they become widows through the deaths of their Roman husbands or orphans through the deaths of their Sabine fathers.

They united the kingly power, but transferred the entire sovereignty to Rome. This story of the rape of the Sabine women, religious studies scholar Davina Lopez writes, was the paradigmatic model of, and justification for, Roman expansionism.

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Conquest rendered in these terms reflects gendered difference in hierarchy: the impenetrable masculinity inherent in Roman rule is chosen to penetrate the femininity of other lands and peoples. Wright, Richard Horsley, and a host of other biblical scholars have shown in great detail that the New Testament is in fact intelligible only when read as a highly subversive and politically charged collection of texts against the historical backdrop of Roman imperial conquest and occupation and the crushing social hierarchies of the ancient world that find virtually unanimous support in the canons of Greek and Roman philosophy, religion, and myth.

According to the earliest Christian documents, God had not only taken on human flesh but was also incarnated in the person of a poor, provincial laborer in the occupied territories of the Roman Empire. Josephus records another attack, led by Lucius Annius at Gerasa just across the Jordan River, and his account makes apparent the atmosphere of violence and national trauma in which Jesus was raised:.

The able-bodied fled, the feeble perished, and everything left was consigned to the flames. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed. This already tells us much about the revolution underway, for in the Greco-Roman world, to be a laborer was to be inferior. Prominent among these were women, including one about to be stoned to death by religious zealots for alleged adultery and one who had been suffering from a bleeding illness for twelve years, whom, according to Jewish law, no one could touch without becoming defiled. The method of execution was an emphatically political one, crucifixion typically being reserved for the most serious crimes against the Roman state.

What is more, the writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark both assert that in his final agony, Christ was abandoned by God himself. Followers of the risen Christ were to courageously emulate his example of self-emptying service and reconciling enemy love, even to the point of their own deaths, if necessary, for the sake of others.

Instead of struggling to attain dignitas as a scarce commodity in competitive rivalry with others, all persons were now summoned to live in generous solidarity with their neighbors as persons of dignity and worth equal to their own. One of the most potent expressions of the Christian invention if not discovery of human equality was the way the early believers gathered together for table fellowships without regard for social standing.

The new faith proved especially attractive to women, sociologist Rodney Stark has shown from a wide array of textual and archaeological sources. By all accounts, Christianity disproportionately drew in female adherents, whose status and power were significantly enhanced by entry into the Christian subculture. They could marry later in life Roman families often gave away prepubescent daughters in marriage , and they benefited from Christian condemnation of traditional male prerogatives in regard to divorce, incest, infidelity, polygamy, and female infanticide.

For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, he Himself being the Savior of the body. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are member of His body…each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

It was in fact a common slur against Christianity that it was a religion for women.


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Insofar as women in the ancient world very often had their dignity violated by powerful men, the slur was entirely accurate. Some readers have concluded that on the question of slavery Paul therefore endorsed the status quo. Deeply ingrained beliefs in human inequality did not go without a fight; nor did Christians cease being people of their time. Evidence of this may be found within the biblical text itself, which frequently lays bare the shortcomings of the early believers.

Paul chastises wealthy believers in Corinth, for example, for excluding the poor and uneducated from their common meals. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now….

Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me. The story of the Christian subversion of pagan values would over time become the story of a tragic double subversion. The retrenchment of hierarchy and domination within the church—particularly after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the empire in the fourth century, reversing several centuries of persecution of believers—means that Christianity is today vulnerable to the charge of being a net force for inequality, hierarchy, violence, and oppression.


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  8. Yet such an indictment of Christianity can be made, ironically, in large part only because of the very moral and humanistic categories introduced into the West by Christianity itself. The Christian proclamation of the full moral equality of all persons—revealed not by nature or science but through the imago Dei and the Incarnation of Christ—led gradually but inexorably to a dramatic overturning of the hierarchical values of the ancient world. The highest models of heroism were no longer warriors who conquered and subjugated their rivals, but Christian martyrs—both men and women, often of lowly origin—who displayed a form of courage-in-weakness that was democratically open to all.

    With the increasing penetration of the Roman state by believers, the rhetoric of leadership also changed. Although it would take considerable time for these ideas to permeate European culture to the point that they would come to be regarded as virtually self-evident truths, there is an undeniable link between the story-shaped life of the early Christian communities and the law-shaped life of later Western civilization. The idea of natural rights was inscribed in canon law by medieval Christian thinkers as early as the twelfth century.

    Ward argues that in place of the story that has come to dominate much of the academy as well as popular culture, of how the invention of the secular saved the West from the violence of religion, we should speak in terms of violent forms of religion being challenged by nonviolent ones, with the latter ultimately giving rise to liberal values and legal formulations. There is nothing in this admittedly outrageously simplified brush-stroke history, of course, that amounts to proof for the metaphysical truth claims of Christianity.

    Alternatively, we might join Nietzsche and his postmodern heirs in rejecting liberal and humanistic values as masks for resentment and power on the logically consistent grounds that the death of God must also lead to the death of the image of God in the Other—and all that went with it.