I live in a country where “culture” and “personal identity” are extremely important. I am buffeted by marketers selling products such as clothing, hairstyle and furniture that claim to make me more acceptable to society, and it becomes hard work maintaining my own identity. Similarly, decades of colonialism has stripped people of their cultural identity. We were persuaded that “English” was a superior culture, and more recently that all things “American” are to be desired (such as McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken!). For this reason we witness a struggle for a cultural identity that is not defined by an external impetus. And so our culture and my identity are the things that we cling to in order to find our place in life.
The world of St Paul was no different. This was a world dominated by Roman culture – a culture that was built on a previously Greek culture, that in turn replaced a Persian culture. In the above Scripture passage St Paul shows his understanding of the importance of cultural identity. Because of this he suggests that the Christian missionary needs to share the Gospel of Jesus from within the culture of the person who hears your faith testimony. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews... To those outside the law I became as one outside the law.... To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.” For Paul, there is no place for Christian cultural imperialism: “I have become all things to all people.”
For thought: We who follow Jesus are products of our culture and personal identity. We need to shed our precious cultural ‘skin’, and take on the perspective of the “other” before we share our faith. Not only is this respectful of other people, but it will prevent us from thinking that ‘our’ way of being Christian is the only way.
Sixth Sunday after Trinity37 The Church for Others
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 231.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.