By Pastor David M. Choi
Paul came also to Derbe and Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in faith, and they increased in numbers daily. – Acts 16:1-5
To some degree or another, I’ve always felt caught in between two modes of existence. For many white Americans, I was too ‘Asian’, and for many Asians (mainly Koreans, since I am Korean) I was too ‘American’. So, the perennial question: could I truly and fully belong to both groups, let alone just one? This doesn’t bother me as much as it once did, but when you’re young, and you’re still trying to figure out who you are and things about your own identity, it can certainly be an agonizing challenge and tiring exercise.
Yet, I know this inner-struggle is not unique to me (far from it!), since it typifies many of your struggles, as well as that of many non-white American youth. Many of you who are reading this are Chinese-Americans, of the second and third generation (I nervously ask…any fourth-gens?). For some of you, that means you are bi-cultural (you are ethnically Chinese and culturally American), whereas for others of you, in addition to being bi-cultural, you are bi-racial (you belong to two distinct racial groups). And I know sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, it seems more like a curse than a blessing, since it can feel like you’re constantly changing outfits, so to speak.
Now, this may come as a surprise to you, but many people in the early church would actually be able to relate. Timothy’s father is Greek, and his mother is Jewish, which means Timothy is both bi-racial and bi-cultural. And of course, he is not alone. In the world of the early church, Timothy represents so many others who are just like him – and who are just like us. No doubt, Timothy would’ve had his own fair share of challenges, that is, of swimming in between the cultural and ethnic currents of his time, but amazingly what Timothy shows us here is that such an existence is fundamentally a gift.
That he is both Greek and Jewish means that his body belongs to two people. But it also means that two people are now joined in one body. And as we see, Timothy embraces the people to whom his body belongs, while also holding together the people who are now joined to his body. In the incarnation of Christ, all of divinity and all of humanity meet. In Timothy’s body then, the Greek and the Jews now meet. And because his body is now joined to Christ’s, through Timothy, the gospel will go forth to both. In this particular passage, we see this play out as Timothy leans into his Jewish identity via circumcision, whereby the Jews come to hear and accept the gospel. Later, we see him press into his Greek identity, so that the Word of God is preached among the Gentiles as well.
While this doesn’t negate the challenges of our existence, it does undercut the belief that who we are is somehow a liability or hindrance to the gospel. In fact, our bi-cultural, bi-racial, and even bi-lingual existences mean we’ve actually been uniquely equipped by God to offer perspectives, levels of empathy, and expressions of love which no one else can, so that the gospel of Jesus Christ would not be flattened, but seen, felt, and experienced in all of its intricate and liberating forms. But let’s not forget! We don’t simply reach out. We also gather in. In our bodies, in which the Spirit of God now dwells, we continue in the reconciling work of bringing together hostile worlds and warring cultures (such as American and Chinese). Not towards who we are, but towards the unifying center of who are, Jesus Christ.
Christ, I am fearfully and wonderfully made in your image. Whatever else may be true about my identity, I remember that the truest thing about me is you. Help me to live in the freedom of your love, and to discover more of who I am as I lose myself in you. In the way that you have made me, use me for the purposes of your glory, so that the light of Christ might be seen in me today. Amen.