The Gospel According to Paul: Dogs, and Christmas in July.

No_dogs-6

This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you. As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message.

Galatians 2:4-6

I have a dog, and over this past summer, I’ve had to take this dog to many places that are not her home. She doesn’t really like this very much, but she is not very aware of how most other institutions in the world don’t like this either. There are all kinds of signs and indicators that dogs are welcome in some areas, not in others, and they should be leashed at all times. At my parents’ house, she’s welcome, but if there’s food on the table, my dad breathes easier when she has a muzzle on and can’t grab a hot dog whenever she wants. 

The leash and the muzzle make her more “acceptable” to everyone. However, she finds these restrictions to be a bit awkward most of the time. Her legs get tangled up when she is leashed and tries to lie down. She is not a fan of her muzzle either, and will rub her face against everything and anything in a futile attempt to get it off. 

For the purposes of illustration, I’m going to reductively assert that the muzzle and the leash are about control: my dog needs to be stopped from being a dog, basically, and the best way to do that is to tie her up and keep her from opening her mouth all the way. We all feel a bit more secure with these sorts of things, because otherwise something more dangerous could happen. After all, the main reason for muzzles is dog bites.

A major motivation for this human vs. dog situation is fear: fear of having no dinner because my gluttonous dog went ahead and helped herself, a fear of a loose animal that could hurt someone, a lack of control over a situation that could go anywhere. 

Similarly, the Agitators’ attempts to control the Gentiles with the law had to do with a kind of fear. The Gentiles were “other”: they were not the same, they did not see things the same, they did not behave the same, they did not follow the same rules. And this was a little bit intimidating to these Agitators; to them, it would be a bit more comfortable to limit these Gentiles by creating a weird little Jewish-Christian hybrid. And by doing so, these Jewish people didn’t just add on something harmless; they created a division that shouldn’t have been there, and they discredited and tried to break down God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ. 

But if we’re honest, we’re scared of “the other” as well, even now. It is often hard to empathize with or understand people with different values, different ways of living, different habits, different ways of seeing the world. Sometimes we end up demonizing the other group, or we think things like: “Well, there’s no way he/she could be a Christian, because he/she thinks/says/does this that or the other thing.” And we often allow these other things to distort or diminish our single most important commonality.

Thank God for the way He worked through Paul: this got nipped in the bud, and it lead to the spread of Christianity around the world. I am amazed by the ways people in the past (and people in the present) have reached people who seemed so different, and how the focus on commonality instead of difference has actually brought not just unity, but also some of the common symbols of Christianity that exist today: Easter Eggs and Christmas Trees were Pagan symbols of fertility and/or gods/goddesses, but now serve as Christian symbols of eternity and eternal life. 

So instead of attempting to control and change other people who don’t conform to our ways of life, we need to not only accept God’s gift of grace for us, but also extend and apply this grace toward “others” and our relationships with them.

 

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