Galilean Neighbor On My Mind

Defining missions without some concrete neighbor in mind helps no one. All mission talk should claim some neighbor. The Ablaze!® movement often spoke of the “unreached” and the “uncommitted.” The most common biblical designation, of popular use among preachers and laity, is the “lost.” But who exactly are the “lost”? Christ goes after sinners who repent. Period. Those are the lost. There is, in a sense, no distinction here between “unbelievers” and “believers.” For sinners come both from within the house of Israel and from without. So I guess the more contemporary terms “uncommitted” and “unreached” might cover the bases.

Besides saying that everyone is a sinner in need of repentance, which is of course true, a more recent, creative, and biblical attempt at defining more clearly who the “lost” neighbor might be in our North American context is CNH District President Robert Newton’s churched-unchurched paradigm for missions. He reminds us that we no longer live in Jerusalem, or in a churched society that assumes Christian values like in the good old days–if there was ever such a golden era. Instead, we live in Babylon, or in an unchurched society that assumes no Christian values and is often hostile to the Gospel. So goes the argument.

There is some truth to the Jerusalem-Babylon paradigm. Under this paradigm, it is not uncommon for Lutherans to think of Jerusalem as the church, the ones “found,” the insiders, as it were. Babylonians are typically thought as the unchurched, the ones “lost,” the outsiders. Babylon (or we might say, Rome) in our day and age is often thought of as atheist, agnostic, secularist, relativist, or some other label that could describe in broad strokes who the lost are supposed to be in a North American context.

Yet this paradigm has its limits. It sees Jerusalem or the churched in rather romantic terms. Here one is reminded, as was said before, that the “lost” in Scripture includes those of the house of Israel, the insiders in dire need of repentance. Jerusalem often has to be called to repentance. Hmmmm.

Now, insofar as Babylon or Rome is hostile to the church, one is indeed reminded of John’s depiction of the “world,” the sphere of Satan’s activity, the prince of this world. But here the world also includes the unfaithful leaders of the house of Israel. Once again, insiders! Hmmmm

On the Babylonian side, the paradigm can help us to some degree to identify who the lost neighbor might be in a North American or even North Atlantic context. There is indeed much hostility to the Christian faith in the U.S. coming from some of those groups already mentioned.

But we must also be aware that some neighbors or sets of neighbors always end up falling through the cracks of our mission paradigms. And so the neighbor brings into question our use of familiar categories. For Scripture also speaks of people who do not seem to easily fit into our categories.

These are the neighbors on the margins, as it were. Mexican American theologian Virgilio Elizondo has spoken eloquently of such borderlands people as the Galilean neighbor. As one who comes from the U.S.-Mexico border, Elizondo reflects on what it means to be neither here nor there and in two places at once. Mexican Americans, for instance, are neither American enough for the North Americans nor Mexican enough for the Mexicans. Both at the same time, and neither one. A marginalized group. Not Catholic enough for the Mexicans, not Protestant enough for the North Americans. Not mestizo enough for the Mexicans, not White enough for the North Americans. Not Spanish-speaking enough for the Mexicans, not English-speaking enough for the North Americans. Not good enough for either side, a mixed breed of sorts.

The experience of Mexican-Americans is, in a sense, the experience of Jesus, the man from Galilee, a border town where nothing good comes from, a place that is neither here nor there, neither pagan like Rome (Babylon) nor as pure in religious terms as Jerusalem Jews would like. The Messiah cannot come from such a messed up place! In both places at the same time, but accepted in neither. Jesus came to save sinners in both places, and yet both Rome and Jerusalem killed him.

Mission clue no. 1: Borderlands people, those on the margins, are seen with a fair amount of suspicion by Jerusalem and Rome. Are they like us or not? Are they “in” or “out”?

Mission clue no. 2: Galileans also see both Jerusalem and Rome, churched and unchurched societies, with great suspicion. Unchurched society may want Galileans for their cheap labor. Churched society may not let them use the kitchen or might even suggest to them that they should be like them a little more and speak like them to be considered full members of the body of Christ.

Analogies only take us so far. But I wonder: Should we speak of missions not only in Jerusalem and Babylon, but also in Galilee? That move would help us see sets of neighbors currently unaccounted for in our mission paradigms. Galileans are, broadly speaking, people in the margins. There are many of them. They live both in Jerusalem and in Babylon, in churched and unchurched societies, and in the places in between. They are borderlands people not exclusively in economic terms (say, the poor), but often in social and ecclesial terms too. The neighbor is flexible enough to warn against stiff categories.

I think, for instance, of the odd, neither here nor there, strangers in the borderlands that Philip reached out to in Acts. As a deacon, he serves poor Greek-speaking Jewish widows who were being marginalized in the Jerusalem church by the Hebrew-speaking ones. We have those today too. The poor with the weird accents and customs. Are they “in”?

As an evangelist, Philip brings Jesus to the Samaritans, though from a Jerusalem perspective these odd fellows are not pure enough to be insiders. God even has to wait for Peter and John to confirm that the Samaritans were “in” by withholding from these Samaritans the gift of the Spirit. And this after they had already believed in Jesus and were baptized! An odd thing to do, but a necessary one for the sake of the Gospel. Not for the Samaritans for sure, but to teach Jerusalem that the Gospel is also for people in fuzzy religious categories. We have Samaritans around too. The mixed breed people. And those for whom the problem is not secularism, but perhaps too much religion. Are they “in”?

And then we have the Ethiopian eunuch. Is he churched or unchurched? Yes! A God-fearer Gentile. He is “in.” But also a eunuch, unable to enter the temple. He is “out.” Neither here nor there. Churched-unchurched categories appear to be insufficient. A man on the margins. We have people like that today too.

But Philip does not ask questions about who belongs and who does not. He simply proclaims Jesus to the Ethiopian in catechesis and then baptizes him in the name of Jesus. Done!

Missions in Galilee is missions among people in fuzzy categories. They include marginalized people like the “poor,” the “religious,” and the “uncommitted” both in or around Jerusalem and Babylon, or in between both.

Rejected by Jerusalem and Babylon, Jesus, a Galilean, on the cross, stretches his hands beyond our mission categories to neighbors everywhere, bringing odd, marginalized characters into his Father’s kingdom.

Galilean neighbor on my mind.

Perhaps our church needs to stop thinking of herself romantically as some pure Jerusalem. So called insiders are sinners in need of repentance too. Check.

Babylon will always be there, of course. Let the hostile atheist, agnostic, secularist, and relativist of the North Atlantic get at least some of the church’s attention.

But do not forget the Galileans in our midst. Or the Greek-speaking Jewish widows, Samaritans, and Ethiopian eunuchs of our day. Like Philip, the church is called to go out of her comfort zones and centers of power towards the loveless and forgotten margins, without deciding in advance who belongs and who does not.

Where is the Synod’s satellite office–or dare we say, central office–for mission and mercy affairs in forgotten rural areas where churches seem to be dying, urban areas with a mixed bag of poor and religious people, or the marginalized U.S.-Mexico border Elizondo speaks about in both geographic and social terms? Hmmmm

Perhaps that is, at least partly, what it means to be a confessional and missionary Lutheran church, namely, a daily dying to self in order to make room for neighbor, especially those at the margins of Jerusalem and Babylon. Jesus died for those who crucified him, for Jerusalem and Babylon, and everyone else in between. We follow in the footsteps of the Galilean and his Galilean disciples.

A church that dies to self in order to make room for those Galilean neighbors on the margins will draw criticism from both Jerusalem and Babylon. She will either be criticized for not being “confessional” enough or for not being “missional” enough. She will share in the sufferings of the Galileans of today and in doing so will also share in her Lord’s sufferings.





14 responses to “Galilean Neighbor On My Mind”

  1. Andy Bartelt Avatar
    Andy Bartelt

    Today found Jesus on the border, between Galilee and Samaria, and a marginal Samaritan leper gave thanks. Did he ever make it to the priest, or did he just return to Jesus? And then comes Ruth, and the bitter Naomi bouncing baby Obed on her grandmotherly knee. Well, reading between the lines a bit, but bitter no more.

    Your profound mission thoughts are timely indeed.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Yeah Andy. Scripture is full of odd, neither here not there, characters. Quite telling also that those who tend to make too much of their being insiders are either explicitly or implicitly called to repent of their self-righteousness and indeed lack of compassion for the outsiders. A Galilean optic–one that sees God at work in Christ where one is less likely to locate Him–does not allow us to skip too quickly over what seems to be such a basic, yet difficult to swallow, biblical insight. That Galilean optic or hermeneutic should also shape in some significant way not only our view of missions but, more broadly, our ecclesiology both theologically and in practice (including institutional aspects and commitments). Thanks for your response.

  2. Aurelio Magarino Avatar
    Aurelio Magarino

    Your essay is very profound and timely. We are living in a society divided in many different ways: socio-economic, political, ethnic. In the midst of all of these divisions the church is also divided about how to fulfill the mission entrusted to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And as you mention Jesus was a mestizo, a marginalized individual because He dared to speak to the power the truth of God. All of these is pushing up to reflect deeply in the concept of the Kingdom of God, which trascends all lines of division and helps to focus in what is really important: to preach the Gospel to all nations, to all people, in our highly diverse environment.
    By the way, it is my prayer that with our new synodical president, more attention, time, and resources will be devoted to ministry with and to all minorities in our beloved LCMS. America always has been a diverse society, reality barely acknowledged until the 1960’s with the civil rights movement. Today, the present diversity is undeniable and as a church body we cannot continue ignoring that.
    Blessings and thank you for your thoughts in this matter.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Hermano Aurelio: As President of the LCMS Hispanic National Convention, you often have to advocate for brothers and sisters who are often marginalized in our own churches. We are reminded that in Christ there is indeed “neither Jew nor Greek,” or to use terms you might be more familiar with, there is neither “Anglo nor Hispanic.” I am also reminded that there is more room in God’s kingdom than what we sinners often allow for. Christ invites outsiders to His banquet. Your comments are much appreciated.

  3. Joel Meyer Avatar
    Joel Meyer

    Dr. Sanchez,

    I always appreciate the way you help us understand the limits of certain paradigms in shaping our theological reflection; and of course, the way you challenge us to think in new terms. In this case, I think your paradigm of mission in Galilee is a more helpful description of our current condition. Let me add to it a post-constantinian angle.

    Mission in Galilee helps us see what it might mean to be a church faithful to the mission of Jesus in a post-Christian America. By post-Christian America, I mean not only that we live in a society that no longer assumes Christian values, but more so that at one time in our history as Americans we thought that typical Christian and typical American values coincided and supported one another. But now it appears, in a way that it previously did not, that typical American values like freedom of religion are hostile to Christianity (for instance, we now see how this value tends to marginalize Christian convictions to the private sector in a way that makes it difficult for Christians to assert their beliefs in public with any neutral/non-biased justification. Or, by the standards of liberal societies, with no justification whatsoever). The resulting challenge of this situation is not primarily that the world is hostile to Christianity, but rather that the church has a difficult time seeing how it ought to be different from the world.

    I think the Jerusalem/Babylon paradigm that you discussed has difficulty dealing with this context because it assumes that Christian values stand out clearly and distinctly to Christians in America, when in fact they don’t. In other words, not only is the Jerusalem/Babylon paradigm romantic as you say, but also naive about our identity as Christians in an American context. For example, I think that this paradigm assumes that the Christian values that the world is hostile to are merely our cognitive beliefs (the existence of God, creation, that it is wrong to end a pregnancy or to practice homosexuality). But what about our practices? My guess is that the everyday practices of American Christians portray that their primary values are not determined by their belief in Jesus, but by the promise of America. For instance, I think that most Christians in America and especially in the LCMS tend to assume that the goal in life is to achieve success defined by the professional, upper middle class, business world. I say they assume this because they would never explicitly confess this with their lips; but this belief, backed by advertizing, technology, and the free-market in general, shapes the way they spend their money, what career to pursue, and even what church to go to. I think, though I don’t have time to defend this here, the convictions of typical Americans are shaped by these practices in ways that marginalize and limit the importance Christian beliefs have within their own lives. And it is these types of things CHRISTIANS have difficulty seeing because America was once a predominantly ‘Christian’ culture (not to mention white and European).

    However, the mission in Galilee paradigm not only helps us better see the people who would otherwise slip through the cracks, but also would lead us to see that American Christianity –including and especially LCMS Christianity – is practiced in ‘Galilee’ and not ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Babylon.’ I hope that a Galilee paradigm would not only direct our attention to borderland people, but also to help us check the assumptions we make about Christianity that create, within the church, the cracks through which borderland people are bound to slip (the value, for instance, of upper-middle class success).

    Finally, I have a question for you. My intuition is that the underlying Christology of the Jerusalem/Babylon paradigm is what you would call a logos-Christology. What do you see as the helpfulness of a Spirit-Christology in sustaining the Galilee paradigm’s theological reflection?

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Hi Joel: Your insightful analysis of the North American church’s situation as one that has driven Christians into a privatization of the faith and a crisis of identity on what counts as the faith, and therefore a denial of their own marginality, is much appreciated. Your words can serve the church as a warning about blaming all things on Babylon, or claiming to be a pure and faithful Jerusalem–easier done in theory than in practice, as you remind us. To be noted too is your claim that surrendering to certain North American values, and thus lacking some basic Christian convictions that might challenge them, can in turn create the very cracks that actually marginalize people. So true.

      Now, I suppose a Logos-oriented Christology could claim that the divine Logos has, through His incarnation (and perhaps even the cross), crossed the borders that separated God and man in order to reconcile man to God. I have actually seen this move being made. But that does not address the ecclesiological problem at hand. A Spirit-oriented Christology, on the other hand, might actually point to the kinds of things that happen to Jesus in the Spirit when he does not conform to either Babylon (Rome) or Jerusalem. To get to the point: The one anointed with the Spirit gets killed! The same thing happens to Stephen. Full of the Holy Spirit, he is stoned to death. Non-conformity to Babylon gets you in trouble, though I must say the heavy critique goes to Jerusalem–as it were, the church establishment that has capitulated to the way the world looks at things. Your colleague Andre Snavely will be arguing in his dissertation proposal for a Spirit-oriented Christological narrative that might get to the situation of the church you describe from a post-Constantinian angle.

      In pointing out the Galilean location of the church’s identity, however, I do think we should be careful not to lose sight of those “other” concrete marginalized neighbors both in Jerusalem and Babylon, and around their societies and spheres of activity, that are often left out or fall through the cracks. You acknowledge these neighbors too. Here we can, once again, show that the ministry of Jesus and His disciples does bring God’s kingdom to characters who are clearly in the margins–yeah, the exalted Christ, who bears the Spirit, and who now sits at the right hand of the Father, also pours out His Spirit on Galileans, Greek-speaking Jews, Samaritans, and of course those Gentiles like you and me. Thanks!

  4. Karl Baughman Avatar
    Karl Baughman

    Well said, Leopoldo! Thanks for pointing me to your article… I know exactly what you mean by the “Galileans” in our midst, down here in Selma, AL.

    When the first Lutheran missionaries arrived in 1915, the look, language and culture of those to whom they preached was irrelevant… African-Americans converted in droves to Lutheranism because it preached the Gospel in all its purity. However, politics soon crept in and the distinction of white and black Lutheran churches became important… in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, the LCMS, no doubt fearful of confusing the Two Kingdoms, recoiled from its missions in central Alabama. Today we see the effects of that: we are currently the only white family in our Lutheran church in Selma. For most people who encounter Lutheranism here, it is primarily an African-American thing, and it is waning. However, there is hope! As more and more students are exposed to Lutheranism on Concordia’s campus, more and more come to see the centrality of Christ to our doctrine, and the centrality of Scripture to our explanations… it is VERY appealing here. I think the time is ripe again for missions to come to central Alabama and not see color or culture, but to come and quench a powerful thirst for the Gospel… I see a time very soon when Concordia–Selma will once again produce most of the Lutheran church-workers who don’t quite fit the cookie-cutter look of the Jerusalem of St. Louisan Lutherans! 🙂

    Hopefully my post is somewhat connected… I wrote quickly while my kids were in the bathtub! Keep up the great posts!!


    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Hey Karl. Good to hear from someone working in the margins. Your post reminds me of a couple of things: First, only the Gospel helps us to cross borders we sinners have set up to make color and culture conditions for our righteousness before God. So true. Second, only the Gospel can motivate someone who works in the margins to speak with the optimism of the faithful that dares to hope for God’s work to happen, and even confesses that it is taking place, in the loveless places where we are not likely to see Him–namely, in the Galilean Jew with His Galilean disciples, among “sinners” (not the “righteous”), among those questionable characters Philip served, and even among those who are seemingly the least important members of His body at Corinth.

      Indeed, a temptation of the theologian of glory in all of us is to see God at work only in the “center,” that is, wherever we see great knowledge, big numbers in church attendance, and/or other material blessings. This is not only a Pentecostal, prosperity gospel problem. We can look at our ourselves in the mirror too. Prestigious educational institutions, megachurches, and Synod, Inc. Are these the “center”? Luther reminds us in His explanation to the First Commandment that even gifts from God, for which of course we are thankful, can become idols. They displace the cross. Dr. Meyer has to remind us at the Seminary that we are all about Jesus, probably because it is easy to forget it.

      Too often, rich and comfortable as we are when compared to the rest of the world, we fail to see God at work in the “margins,” in the loveless places. Might the “center” also be called to repentance, hear the Gospel, and learn what it means to be a Christian from the “margins”? “I did not come to save the righteous but sinners.” Ouch! The Samaritans wait for the gifts of the Spirit until the apostles are there–not for the sake of the Samaritans, but for the sake of those who could not dare to hope God might be interested in making Samaritans full members of His kingdom. Now, I see how the Gospel is unconditional promise! And then we have those “other” Corinthians whose gifts do not seem that spectacular. But Paul reminds us that we are to give them more honor. What? Wow! Could it be that the Christian life is less about my gifts and more about my needy neighbors, how I might humbly use whatever God has given us for their sake.

      We can learn so much “from the margins.” In your own way, you dare us to be open to that possibility. Thanks for that reminder.

      “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

  5. Elizabeth Ahlman Avatar
    Elizabeth Ahlman

    Dr. Sanchez,

    Living in Austin, TX (or anyway, just outside of it), really brings this article home. I am a member of a playgroup with a mixed bag of beliefs, pseudo-beliefs, “sure I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church” beliefs, no beliefs, comfortable for me beliefs, and different beliefs. It is really a sampling of the Austin area, but also of, I think, American culture and the world, for that matter. However, this really goes back to the first line of your article “Defining missions without some concrete neighbor in mind helps no one.” In the end, the concrete neighbor is not the Babylonian, the Jerusalemite, or the Galilean. It is the playgroup mom who needs a listening ear. It is the fellow church member struggling with job loss or disillusionment. It is the mom in music class who comes in clearly looking upset. It is the faraway friend who calls you on the phone, who you’ve known forever, but whose spiritual state is unknown. It is the brother who refuses to believe. It is the family member struggling with cancer. It is the people with whom you work.

    In the end, we have to define the neighbor by looking around us as an individual. I guess what I am saying is, we have to look at our vocations. For me: mother, wife, friend, fellow mom, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, tutor. For someone else, father, son, secretary, CEO, janitor, teacher, etc, etc. Who do those vocations put us in touch with? As individuals, we can reach those people far better than any church program. Yes, the church as a whole needs missions, needs to think missionally, needs helpful paradigms or categories. However, the church also needs to teach its people to be who they are as Baptized children of God and thereby reach those with whom they live, work, and play.

    I am certainly guilty, despite my Deaconess training, of not doing this among my “less than/sort of/not at all Christian” neighbors. I’ve even heard myself saying, “Well, you know, we believe this…” as if apologizing for what I believe or putting a post-modern spin on it: “we believe this” and the implied “but you might not.” But thanks be to God! In Christ, I am renewed in my Baptism day by day. Christ himself reaches the lost around me in and through me, even when I resist or fail. I guess what I am saying is, let’s encourage our members not to count numbers, label people, or work in paradigms, but to know that Christ in them, Christ through them, and Christ for them seeks, identifies, and evangelizes the neighbors in their midst.

    Sorry if this is slightly off topic or off base, but that first line of your article struck me most.

    Elizabeth Ahlman (nee Meckler)

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Elizabeth: Great post! The concrete neighbor is what matters. Now, paradigms are helpful when they draw our attention and direct our service to neighbors that are being left out, marginalized, excluded. However, when those paradigms become absolute and hopelessly abstract, they can easily outlive their productivity, usefulness, or orientation towards serving some concrete neighbor. I agree. A perceptive comment.

      So the place of vocation as a starting point and context for defining some concrete neighbor is commended. My previous post “Arizona Neighbor On My Mind” challenges readers to take precisely the approach you suggest for dealing with complex issues related to the civil law. What is my vocation? And what specific neighbor am I therefore advocating for and serving? The same questions may be asked of issues related to missions. Look at where God has placed you and thus the neighbor He has sent you.

      However, we must also be flexible enough to let some neighbors “in” who might not at first seem to “fit” within our vocations. I have seen how some people use vocation language to exclude some important neighbors whom God has sent to us too. But you speak of vocation in a rather generous and caring way, even including all kinds of neighbors–some Christian, some not– who are indeed often treated even by Christians as if they were from “Galilee,” that is, from a place where nothing good comes from. And you do so without losing your vocational ground. Love it!

  6. Carl C. Trovall Avatar
    Carl C. Trovall

    Timely comments, Leo! Thanks for highlighting the cultural reality (which is our missionary context) of many Americans, and also for highlighting Virgilio Elizondo’s important theological work. Missiology is grounded in Christology, even in the very identity of Jesus Christ as a marginalized Galilean Jew. You push what our being the Body of Christ might mean and demand in the margins.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Thanks Carl. To my knowledge, you are one of the few scholars in our Synod who has tapped into Elizondo’s literature and engaged his theology and ethics. One of the thoughts that increasingly comes to mind for me, when dealing with neighbor issues, is the prior or more fundamental question concerning the ethical dimension of theology and the theological task, and therefore, the institutional commitments that come along with pitching one’s tent with people on the margins.

      We focus much on the soteriological dimensions of theology and pastoral practice, as we of course should, but have not thought through the ethical foundations and trajectories or our life together. Much has been done recently to see theology and mercy together, and the current President of both our Synod and LWR have promoted reflection and institutional commitments in that area. A good start.

      Should a Systematic Theology also deal with Ethics? Theology without ethics will surely leave some important neighbor behind. Keep up the good work, Carlitos!

  7. Stephen Rutherford Avatar
    Stephen Rutherford

    Dr. Sanchez,

    Thank you for this – I think your suggestion about the Galilean neighbor is an excellent way to open up space for thinking about our mission and identity as the Church more critically and faithfully.

    Once the conceptual space has been made for Galilee, the next question to be asked is what it might look like to make ecclesial space for Galilee. Obviously, the answer to that question depends a great deal on who the particular Galilean might be that we find ourselves face to face with, and likewise just who that ‘we’ is that finds themselves face to face with that Galilean. For better or worse, we always carry our distinct histories and our traditions and our sins with us as individuals and as members of our respective communities (or, of our respective church, in both a local and a broader institutional sense). And what it might mean to preach the Gospel of reconciliation authentically to the marginalized we encounter depends a great deal on our and their particular histories – particularly when the ‘we’ turns out to be responsible for such marginalization.

    But the answer also depends on where we believe the Church is speaking from in a general sense, or what (rather than who) our speaking is aimed toward. To get at what I mean, I was struck by your statement that the Galilean is often suspicious of the church. I think that’s a very astute point, but I also can’t shake the feeling that the Galilean should perhaps rightly be suspicious of the authentic church, as much as, and perhaps even more so, than of the self-assured and often tacitly marginalizing practices of the pure and holy cultic community of the church-as-Jerusalem. After all, whatever else it might mean to make ecclesial space for Galilee, it must at least mean making space at the Lord’s Table. And to make that space means to marginalize a good deal of their history, traditions, concerns, and hopes, even as that space marginalizes the history, traditions, concerns, and hopes of the self-assured, holy Jerusalem. After all, to make that space is to forgive sins, and to forgive sins is more than to tacitly marginalize Jerusalem, Babylon, and/or Galilee. It is marginalization of their identities to the extreme as it calls into question their former people, history, and identities, and gathers them up into a new history, a new identity, a new people – though, and this is an essential point, never in such a way as to render their former history, identity, or people irrelevant or meaningless; “my father was a wandering aramean” remains an essential part of Israel’s confession. My meandering point, then, is that we should at least have one caution when usefully taking Galilee into the missional paradigm (not that you fall into this danger; you avoid it very well): the Church does not preach from Galilee or toward Galilee if by that we mean that the church has its self identity in it’s own status as marginalized, that its counter-cultural identity is fundamental to its character, or if we mean by that that it seeks to affirm and answer the interests of the disenfranchised and marginalized so as to center them and their hopes. The Church or the particular church, at its best, preaches from the ecclesial space of the Table and toward that space. The ecclesial space that Christ opens at His table is not the self-assured, holy cult of Jerusalem over against the profane Babylon or the more or less profane Galilee. Nor is it precisely Galilee. Though that space should, as you say, afford us enough of a view so as to sight the neighbors located in Jerusalem and Galilee and Babylon as the neighbor who we find ourselves face to face with, and for whom that space at the Table exists.

    Of course, that’s to say very little concretely about what it might look like to make ecclesial space for Galilee.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

    1. Leopoldo Sanchez Avatar
      Leopoldo Sanchez

      Hi Stephen!

      You raise the issue of foundational ecclesiology, that is, what makes the church what it is. To put it in other terms: If the church were to take care of all the Galileans, the marginalized in Jerusalem and Babylon (Rome), would there cease to be a need for the church? And the answer, of course, is not. Here the Gospel comes back to define the church’s identity, its esse.

      I am reminded of Yves Congar’s analysis of the charismatic Renewal movement in the Roman Catholic church and its occasional claims to be “the” church. Not every congregation is Corinth, or has to be Corinth to be “the” church. There is also, of course, the Johannine church, the Jerusalem church, etc. One should not confuse the local with the catholic.

      What Congar proposes is a distinction between renewal “in” the church (whatever that might mean in a particular time and place) and “the” church per se. The problem is when renewal in whatever area becomes the norm for everyone and, even worse, a condition for being church.

      The same can be true of calls for renewal in the liturgy, marriage, and missions–all of which can indeed be good and even necessary to express what it means to be the church in the world today without claiming to replace its foundation. Does this or that renewal claim to be the totality or the foundation of the church catholic? If so, then, the proposed renewal movement has become its own church.

      Then there is, the “church-as-Jerusalem” today, which is not a historical description of the past, but a model for getting at some problem the church suffers from in the present day context. And then the call for renewal to make space in that church for missions “in” Galilee. We now enter into an approach to ecclesiology that might fall perhaps not at first in the area of foundational ecclesiology but rather pastoral ecclesiology. A call for renewal in a certain dimension of the church’s life and work in this or that contemporary situation for the sake of some concrete neighbor or set of neighbors.

      I would argue that even a foundational ecclesiology, which should at some level make room for baptism in defining its identity, makes room for dying to self in order to be made alive. This is part of her baptismal identity, what it means to be church, both in the catholic and local sense. And so the call for renewal offers the baptized an opportunity for repentance, forgiveness, and therefore making room for unaccounted neighbors.

      Great post! Thanks.

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