For Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. . . . Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. - Ephesians 2:14, 16
At first sight, the term “ethnic cleansing” appears to be wholesome and welcome. Why not engage in “cleansing” in order to get rid of dirt and garbage, and recover that which is beautiful and pure? But ethnic cleansing is not what it purports to be; it is not at all wholesome and welcome. Ethnic cleansing presupposes that it is the people of a particular ethnicity who are the dirt and garbage, and the cleansing called for is to get rid of those people.
The former People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia is a case in point. Created in 1945, it consisted of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Macedonia, plus the regions of Vojvodina and Kosovo. But in 1992, after the collapse of Communism, all the constituent republics declared independence and turned on each other. A vicious, bloody, murderous season of rape, pillage, and mass slaughter erupted. They called it “ethnic cleansing.” It was actually an attempt at ethnic extermination, and there was nothing clean about it.
At the time the New Testament was written, there had been ethnic tensions between Jews and Gentiles for centuries. The Jews accurately believed that they were a special people—God had told them so. But he had not told them that they were superior to all the other peoples. In fact, they were called to be servants, not superiors, as they carried God’s good news to the world. But they became supercilious. So the Gentiles became enraged and, over the years, ethnic tensions flared into outrageous acts of cruelty between the two groups.
Then came Jesus, a Jew, followed by Paul, another Jew. Paul wrote this about Jesus: “Christ himself has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one people. He has broken down the wall of hostility that used to separate us. . . . Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death, and our hostility toward each other was put to death” (Eph. 2:14, 16).
People involved in ethnic cleansing will angrily explain that they are avenging historic atrocities. But both the atrocities and the anger, both the brutality and the revenge, have another name—sin. And the only way to deal with sin is by the death of Christ and the willingness of the sinners to humbly come to him for forgiveness in order to know his transforming power. That cleanses their souls and begins to clean up their relationships. That is real ethnic cleansing.
We all have ethnic prejudices and tensions that could use some cleansing. And there’s only one place to find it—the cross of Christ.
For Further Study: Ephesians 2:11-22