Come to Follow The Way
Matthew 11,28:30 Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
In the beginning, the movement that would be called Christianity consisted of a relatively small minority of individuals who followed Jesus. These initial followers were called The Way; because they were following after the way of Jesus; following his way of living and being in relationship to God and to one another. Yet, to follow Jesus, and to declare him; Lord; was viewed by the many in the Roman government as an act of sedition, for there was already a panoply of parochial gods for the citizens to worship and obey. As a result, historians note that many Roman critics called the first group of Christian followers; atheists; because they rejected Roman gods. The persecution of Christians ensued, of course, and perhaps the authorities believed this would quell Christian fervour. But it did not. Christianity spread like a wildfire all across what was the pagan Roman Empire.
Numerically, Christianity did grow. Emperor Theodosius would never have chosen an official religion of the entire Empire from a tiny, marginal sect. Helped by the Empire, Christianity became; Christendom; and all its power and glory overwhelmed the known world. Yet, prior to its cultural ascendancy, the small group of Jesus followers exerted an influence that confounded the powerful. The influential presence of these earliest Christians transformed the entire course of history. In other words, their influence preceded their numerical growth.
And just what was this influence?
The earliest Christians demonstrated radical care for the least and the last. We learn about this radical care from the harshest critics against Christianity. In his treatise, Against the Galileans, Julian complained that the Christians had from the earliest days swelled their ranks with what he considered the most; vicious, disreputable, and contemptible of persons; and that it was; their philanthropy towards strangers; that has done the most to spread their atheism.; Celsus, the ancient Roman pagan author, cited that the disproportionate number of women among the Christians as evidence of its vulgarity and irrationality. Indeed, Celsus had the particular disdain for the early Christians because of who it attracted into its fold: the lowborn and uneducated, slaves, women and children, cobblers, laundresses, weavers of wool.
Historian David Bentley Hart insists that the primary influence of the early Christians was actually their charity. Like none of the other pagan cults in the Empire,; Christian teaching from the first placed charity at the center of the spiritual life and raised the care of widows, orphans, the sick, the imprisoned and the poor to the level of the highest religious obligations. Hence, the growing numbers of the earliest Christians were the direct result of caring for those who were on the margins of society. Christianity may again be a marginalized faith at least in the developing world as it appears to decline numerically. But influence is not dependent on power. The earliest Christians followed the lead of Jesus who consorted with lunatics, harlots, and lepers, who washed the feet of those who would betray him, and who forgave those who crucified him. The power of Christianity came in the form of a cross, and not a throne.
Rev. Marie Yvonne