Ajith Fernando, National Director, Youth for Christ/ Sri Lanka
Few doctrines in the Bible have challenged me more in recent years as the doctrine that Christ’s work breaks human barriers in the body of Christ. I have been surprised lately at how often it comes in the New Testament descriptions of the work of Christ (e.g. John 10:16; Acts 10; 2 Cor. 5:16; Gal. 3:28 and Eph. 2:14-22). I feel embarrassed by the fact that for so long I did not think about this when I thought about the affects of the death of Christ. And when I think about the pathetic record in applying this truth of those of us who claim to accept the full infallibility of scripture, my sense of shame increases further.
It is easy for us to point to apartheid in South Africa and segregation in USA and forget the way we regard our poor neighbours, our servants and the labourers who come to work on our houses. This point came to me forcefully some years ago when I was travelling in a bus, seated next to one of the first converts to Christianity from the Rodhiya community. This community is considered among the most depressed according to the demonic caste system that our fallen natures constructed in Sri Lanka. He told me, “Our people will come to Christ. But don’t ask them to come to the church.” I asked him why he said that. He said something like this: “When we come for your worship services you welcome us with open arms. But if we come to your homes, you make us enter from the back door, you give us to drink from a different cup to that you drink out of, and you won’t eat with us at the same table.” I bowed my head in shame!
Recently I have been teaching the book of Galatians. When I came to Galatians 3:28 I thought I must give a good contemporary application of this. This verse eloquently explains how the work of Christ breaks the barriers of race, class and sex respectively: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I had felt that in Sri Lanka our prejudice comes to the fore quite markedly when our children choose a marriage partner who is of a different social standing to us. So I chose an example of such a situation.
A fine Christian couple have a son. The father in this family is a university professor of Chemistry, and the mother is an eminent physician. The parents and son are all deeply committed Christians. We praise God for his grace to this family and for the radiant example of the legacy of parents who honour Christ in all they do.
Then there was a prostitute who had a daughter. She is not sure who the father of this girl is because she has had so many men. Because she was often in prison and, when out of prison, often under the influence of drugs, this girl was brought up under very terrible conditions. But she was gloriously converted and was now a wonderful Christian in her early twenties. We praise God for the way his grace reached out to her and transformed her life.
By and by the son of the brilliant parents and the daughter of the prostitute fell in love. They share a common desire to serve God and to pay the price of such service, and they seem to be deeply in love. What do the Christian parents do? Do they object on the grounds of the girl’s background? “If they do,” I said, “they are hypocrites!”
When I told my wife about this article, the first thing she told me was that Jesus was a descendent of a prostitute, Rahab. It’s there in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew (1:5). When I read this genealogy, I realised that Rahab is the second woman to be mentioned in this genealogy. The first is Thamar (Matt. 1:3), and her children were conceived out of wedlock! Then I found out that there are two more women mentioned: Ruth and Bathsheba. All four women were probably Gentiles, and three were of morally dubious reputation. Surely there must be some significant lesson that Matthew wants to teach by singling out just these four women in the genealogy of the greatest man who ever lived.
During my prayer time today I was thinking about Christians who come from very unhappy family backgrounds. Then I read, as part of my devotions, the stimulating chapter on the ascension of Christ in Philip Yancey’s brilliant book, The Jesus I Never Knew. I was reading Yancey’s reflections on the fact that, after the ascension, we carry on the mission that began with Christ’s ministry on earth. I remembered how the sinners felt so much at home in the presence of Jesus, and I was reflecting on what we should do for that to be true of us too. Suddenly the thought came to me: “What if one of my children falls in love with the child of a prostitute? Would I approve?” I had to say that, if this person was a committed Christian, I could not object on the grounds of the mother’s social standing.
But, I reasoned, how about some of the psychological scars that person would have? This was a really tough issue! This is how my reasoning process went: I had to admit that God would be equally committed to the welfare of this person as to that of my child. Because as a Christian I do not believe in reincarnation, I must admit that my children did nothing to merit the relative stability they experienced in my home. Neither did this person do anything to merit the instability of his or her home. If this person married into a relatively stable home, wouldn’t it be in keeping with the justice of God? If my child were to suffer because of this person’s emotional problems, wouldn’t it be in keeping with the example of Christ who suffered to bring health to us. If my child refuses to reject this person despite all the emotional scars he or she bears, would it not be a beautiful way that God has chosen to bring healing to his or her life? The one from a stable background marries the one from an unstable background so that, through the stability of the stable, the wounds of the unstable are healed.
Of course, I must not forget the immense enrichment that would come to my family through the experiences of a person who has had unusual experiences I know nothing of. So the enrichment that could take place from such a marriage would work both ways.
I prayed, “If my child wants to marry a committed Christian who is the child of a prostitute, help me to accept this person into my family, joyfully and with open arms.”