God's Multicultural Plan

October 1st, 2013

Ruth’s story highlights a special side of David’s story. Because of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:18), this is Jesus’ royal lineage as “son of David,” not his genetic one. Yet Matthew shocks his audience in Matthew 1 by reminding them of David’s Gentile ancestors. Gentiles have always been part of God’s plan, which is certainly good news for Jesus’ followers today, most of whom are of Gentile ancestry.

Matthew illustrates this point by means of unions between persons of different ethnic groups. Sometimes the Old Testament warned against interethnic unions because marrying people who did not share Israel’s commitment to God could (and often did) weaken Israel’s commitment. This prohibition was, however, for spiritual, not ethnic purposes. (Thus, for example, Joseph and Moses both married interethnically when in exile from their own lands.)

Biblical examples of godly interracial marriages can encourage those whose marriages cross such boundaries today. I am from the United States and my wife is from Congo- Brazzaville in Central Africa; cultural differences sometimes compound the normal share of marital misunderstandings. Yet our unity in Christ is stronger than such differences, offering a vantage point to work for sensitive racial, ethnic, and cultural reconciliation.

Although Matthew uses marriage here to illustrate his point, other examples in the Gospel show that his concern extends far beyond marriage to cross-cultural sensitivity in general. Matthew probably wrote especially for Jewish followers of Jesus, and many scholars think that he wrote in the wake of Romans killing and enslaving tens of thousands of Jewish people. In such a setting, Matthew reminds his Jewish Christian audience that they must still seek to bring the good news about Jesus to everyone who will hear, including many Gentiles. If God can welcome Canaanites (like Rahab), God can also welcome even representatives of Rome (like the centurion of 8:5-13 or Jesus’ execution squad in 27:54).

Today’s world is torn by ethnic strife. Racism supported slavery in the United States and some Arab countries, and apartheid in South Africa; it undergirded terrible exploitation and sometimes destruction of Native Americans. Over the past century, ethnic conflict has often led to genocide, in Turkey, Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and elsewhere. Over half the countries in the world have ethnic minority populations of at least 10 percent, often with the majority culture misunderstanding, ignoring, and at worst repressing the minority cultures.

What does the gospel say to such conflicts? Matthew’s Gospel repeatedly reaffirms the value of Gentiles (for Matthew’s audience, those of foreign ethnicity and culture), reaching them with the good news and welcoming them among God’s people. This theme is pervasive enough in this Gospel, and we will see it again. The same theme is prominent in Acts and Paul’s letters, where again it is understood in terms of Jews and Gentiles. If God summoned the church to surmount a barrier once established in history by God, how much more would God summon us to surmount all other barriers established only by human selfishness? Followers of Christ must thus be ready to build cross-cultural relationships and work for racial and ethnic reconciliation.

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