When I read about challenges the early church (1st century church specifically) faced, the one that stands out to me the most is the integration of gentiles. Forget the persecution, and martyrdom and all that, the biggest challenge the early church faced was accepting gentiles, specifically Roman gentiles, into the community. People tend to forget that the early church was originally considered a Jewish sect and wanted to ignore the “Roman Problem” at best. Ah, but what exactly was “the roman problem”?
Simply put, the Romans were the embodiment of all evil through most of Jewish society. The Romans levied taxes that left the economy crippled. The Romans occupied Jewish land. The Romans kept a false king in power. The Romans had troops wandering around the country like they owned it. The only people more interested in persecuting Christians than the Romans, were Jews like Saul. The Romans were not just A problem, they were THE problem.
And then as Christianity spreads, not only are Jews asked to reconcile with Greeks and allow Greeks to join them, but they must also allow the dreaded Roman to enter.
The Roman who might actually be working for the empire to uncover Christian Enclaves.
Any Roman, any one at all, might actually be an agent for the destruction of the church.
And still the church welcomed them. Still the Church loved them.
I think of that, and I think of the USA today. Now the USA is not the church. I want to be clear about that. But we also have a large Christian population. We have a Christian population so large, that conservative politicians go out of their way to discuss their faith in an attempt to win our vote. Fine. That’s all fine.
But you Christian, cannot claim to love Christ if you are afraid to love a Syrian refugee just because he or she MIGHT be a terrorist. The fear you have of that, pales in comparison to the fear of our Spiritual Fathers and Mothers who treated with the Romans and yet they were still open and loving.
I admit I’m not aware of the details. I don’t know if there were elaborate rituals and tests that the Church required before admitting someone into the community. But they still did it. The lesson to be learned here, is that the threat or act of aggression can never be so great that we fail to love the aggressor.
“We also pray for ISIS itself, because they too are victims. They’re victims of the evil one and they do not even know it. They do not know what they are doing. We have a great high priest, who prayed that prayer on Calvary: ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do.'” ~Bishop Robert Hermann Archdiocese of St. Louis