By The Rev. Canon Joseph Galgalo
Today’s reading from Nehemiah is about commitment. It reminds me of the familiar fable of the chicken and the pig. Motivated by the desire to please their master, and at the chicken’s behest, the pig offers bacon and ham while the chicken only contributes eggs to their master’s breakfast table. The difference between the pig and the chicken in such an arrangement is that whereas the pig is totally committed, the chicken is only involved. The point of the story is that real commitment calls for sacrifice.
It may sound odd to us that Nehemiah condemns mixed marriages. A close examination of this text, however, shows that the situation called for total commitment. Entrusting the reforms to a mix group spelt a real danger of religious apostasy and could compromise the desired reforms. Tobiah’s eviction (see v.8) can be seen in the same light. Faced with the task of rebuilding not only the physical infrastructure but also rebuilding of faith and a covenant community, Nehemiah needed to raise the standard, and this required not just token contribution but real sacrificial offering.
Our New Testament reading, addressing believers of an ethnic mix, shows how unity across context and cultural or racial divides can be achieved through common faith in Christ. The closing chapter of First Corinthians begins with a plea for involvement in contributing towards a gift basket for needy Christians in Jerusalem. Towards the close of the chapter, just before sending his final greetings, Paul shifts emphasis from ‘involvement’ to ‘commitment:’ “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith” (v.13). Faith in God and pursuance of a genuine life of faith, calls for a sacrifice beyond simple involvement. Faith is itself a gift from God and the appropriation of that gift demands nothing less than total commitment to God. We may choose to determine the level of our involvement or contribution to the church, but God demands, as the hymn writer says: “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
Do you think Nehemiah was justified to forbid mixed marriages in the circumstances? Did this injunction have any relevance for the intended reforms?
Merciful God, graciously grant us the will and the strength to give of ourselves and to live only for you as we should, through Christ, the merciful high priest. Amen
The Rev. Canon Joseph Galgalo is Vice Chancellor, St. Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya