“One bad apple spoils the bunch.”
We used to have a game we’d play in youth group to illustrate one of the first main points of today’s reading. We’d have one of the youth, usually the strongest, stand on top of a chair. His job was to pull everyone else up on the chair with him. Everyone else’s job was to pull him down off the chair. It doesn’t take much imagination to see the outcome of this contest – every time, no matter how strong or big the chair person was, they were brought down, and often by the first person to try. The point was that it is impossible for us to make the people around us more righteous, more Godly, by force, or alone, or against their will.
God’s command to His people about the folk who lived in the Promised Land seems cruel, if not genocidal to us today. Given our own history with the Native American population in America, and our current issues with other races, with immigrants and with those different than us have taught us the dangers of what God commanded His people back then. To completely wipe out everyone, destroy any remnant of their culture and religion, “without mercy” seems very un-Godlike to us.
But these people were to be God’s people, and God knew they were too weak to stand against a rival culture. He knew they would succumb to the temptations of the foreign culture around them and in so doing, they would lose their identity as God’s people. And so the command to remain pure, seal themselves away from other cultures, and eliminate anything that was not Hebrew, from people to religions to philosophies.
As we look at Christians today, we have to see that God was correct in His assessment of our ability to remain pure in an impure culture. While pure Christianity would put an end to abuse and violence, to divorce and adultery, to STD’s and racism, to gun violence and abortions, we are more known for being just like the culture around us, with the same divorce rates, addiction rates, and habits as our non-Christian neighbors.
I’m not advocating any kind of violence, but what would it take for us to recapture a pure Christianity, one based on love and the fruit of the spirit, one that was truly a light on a hill, attractive and healing for the whole world?