Judaism, as an historical religion, is tribal. Its God is a tribal god; its doctrines are the regulations of a tribe; its functionaries are tribal representatives.

Self-identity within the tribe consists of location in the fabric of the tribe. There is no distinction between personal and tribal joy, loss, ambition, friendship, pride. The tribal god is concerned with that fabric, and with the individual only as an ingredient of the fabric.

The voices of the identifiable personalities of the Hebrew scriptures, even when in the first person, represent the voice of the collective, and the imagined voice of Yahweh is addressed to the national attention: I will make of you a great and numerous people is a sovereign promise to a nation, not to Abraham. The prophets do not speak to God out of their private personalities: there are no private personalities in the tribe.

The same is true of all successful religions.  That’s why the Way of Christ has never been and can never be a successful religion.

When Jesus tells His disciples they must hate their relatives to follow Him, He’s beckoning followers to come free of the tribe. He’s saying they must separate themselves from that which gave their lives meaning, security and direction.  And that’s why most of His followers abandoned Him near the end, as they finally came to understand the magnitude and the implication of what He was saying: that their continued relationship with Him is not an enhancement, but an exchange: their lives for His.

Because we are human, and humans are, in their spirit, fundamentally tribal, this is a terrible requirement. Even Paul failed to fulfill it, and instead offered ‘the body of Christ’ as the tribal substitute for the Jewish nation. (And out of that failure – that retreat from the final truth – arose Catholicism, a wildly successful religion.)

The summons is no less challenging today, because people are no less dependent for their identity on their tribe than they were then, although the tribes themselves have weakened, and most are godless. (Hence the existential distress of secular modernity.)

But the call of Christ is the same today as then, and just as unnatural, just as difficult, just as uncompromising: find your identity in your relationship with Me, and nowhere else. All the alternatives are deceptive and ultimately fruitless.

There are no tribes in Heaven.

2 thoughts on “THE OUTCASTS

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