Us and Them



In Jesus’ time, human systems, much like in ours, were corrupt and oppressive, full of extortion, intolerance and social injustice. Jesus’ approach did not involve directly attacking human government, yet He was not passive or indifferent—He took action. Though ethnocentrism and negative stereotyping were normal, in every encounter with people, He viewed them as God’s children. He treated everyone with dignity and grace. He rose above the divisions of His society, ignored social categories and stereotypes that separated people from each other, thus subverting the very institutions that perpetuated injustice.

Psychology, history, social media and American politics demonstrate human inclination to view “others” as part of an out group and to have negative emotions about them. By nature, humans take sides, meaning we divide people into us versus them, whether it be over ethnicity, culture, politics, language, religious views, socio-economic status, gender or age.

A Christian was walking along a bridge one day, when he saw a woman standing by herself, obviously contemplating taking her own life. He said, "Don't do it!" "Nobody loves me,” she responded. “God loves you. Do you believe in Him?” “Yes," she responded. The man proceeded to ask, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" She said, "A Christian." He said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" She said, "Protestant." He said, "Me, too! What denomination?" She said, “Baptist." He said, "Me, too! American Baptist or Southern Baptist?” She said, "American Baptist." He said, "Me, too! Conservative American Baptist or Liberal American Baptist?” She said, "Conservative American Baptist." He said, "Me, too! Conservative American Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Conservative American Baptist Eastern Region?" She said, "Conservative American Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!” Conservative American Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Conservative American Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" She said, "Conservative American Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.” He said, "Die, heretic!" And he pushed her over. 

This is not a true story, but it illustrates my point. Whether it be apartheid in South Africa, genocide in Rwanda, racial segregation in the US South, inequality for women in Saudi Arabia, persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, human history is filled with tragic examples of us-versus-them-thinking.

Jesus, however, never succumbed to the in-group bias. One of the reasons He was so controversial was his disregard for human-imposed lines that divide people (though His disciples often defaulted into Us vs. Them). The biggest complaint the disciples would have made about Jesus was: He treats people on the other side as if they were on our side.

He ministered to a Samaritan woman who had questionable morals (Jn. 4:4-27), blessed children (Lk. 18:15-16), healed lepers, including a Samaritan (Lk. 17:15-16), praised the faith of a Roman centurion (Matt. 8:5-10), healed Malchus, one of the men who came to arrest Him (Jn. 18:10), chose Simon the zealot to be one of his twelve disciples (Matt. 10:4), ate with Zacchaeus, a tax collector (Lk. 19:1-7). Jesus continually communicated love and acceptance to those the disciples considered as them (Lk. 9:49-56). He was often accused of receiving sinners (Lk. 15:1; 7:39).

Other religions, other ethnicities, other cultures, other political parties, other languages—what have we not allowed to turn people into “them”? Does Jesus or Scripture ever draw lines? Yes, but not over ethnicity, age, political views, gender, culture, religious profession, etc (Acts 10:34-35; 15:8-9). In God’s eyes, “all” have sinned (Rom. 3:23), meaning all humans, apart from God, are on the wrong side. 

In God’s plan, "all" of the families of the earth were to be blessed (Gen. 12:3), meaning all were to be given an equal chance to belong to God’s side. In fact, Abraham was not told that he would become father of the Jews. Rather, he was to become father to “many nations” (Gen. 17:4). God intended to draw all nations to Himself through the descendants of Abraham (Isaiah 60:1-3).

For Jesus, the categories are not us and them. In the parables of the Pharisee and tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) and the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), He rebuked that kind of thinking. Paul called the us-versus-them mentality “carnal” (1 Cor. 3:1-4). We have all likely experienced the discomfort of being some place or with people where we did not feel that we belonged. This should never exist, however, in a gathering of Jesus’ followers.

When He returns, Jesus will divide the nations. There will be two groups. The line will (surprisingly) be drawn between those who love others (especially “outsiders”) and those (even among the religious) who love themselves (Matt. 25:31-46).

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