It wasn’t too long ago when a majority in our society promoted and enforced the policy of segregation. The mantra of that age was “separate but equal”—people of different races and ethnicity should be kept separate, but resources and opportunities would be equal. Fortunately, we’ve come to recognize the fallacy of that policy. We could keep people separate, but some were more equal than others. The majority always had access to better opportunity and minorities had the disadvantage of too little influence to change that dynamic.
As I was reading some background material on the FIFA World Cup taking place right now in South Africa, I came across a reference to an African philosophy called Ubuntu that was embraced by South Africa after the fall of apartheid. [A variation of the Linux open source computer operating system also goes by the name Ubuntu.]
Ubuntu was described by Bishop Desmond Tutu this way in 2008:
Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can’t exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality —Ubuntu —you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
Ubuntu is precisely the opposite of “separate but equal”. We are only equal in our shared humanity —when our lives are interconnected with one another. That is what Paul is talking about in this passage of Galatians. The law of Moses connected God’s people together as community. Those who follow Christ are bound together as a community by faith. In this community we are equal regardless of race, age, gender or social standing.
When one person in community suffers, we all suffer equally. The blessings of one are the blessings of all equally. When one person is oppressed, we are all oppressed equally. When one is in isolation, we all experience isolation equally. Perhaps we still have some work to do in the community of faith to grow into this way of life —just as we still have work to do in our society to outgrow the habits of segregation —but equal in community is a characteristic of Christian life that points to the nature of God’s reign.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Rik