Othering occurs when structures and practices of one group define those not of one’s group as outsiders. To some extent, this is unavoidable. If I am not of your group, then I am by definition outside of it. But othering goes further than this. Othering defines difference as bad, unworthy, or dangerous.
In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus finds himself—for about the hundredth time—confronted by the Pharisees. First century Pharisees, like all Palestinian Jews in that day, are faced with a real problem: secular culture is challenging their religious lives. (Does that sound familiar?) For years the Romans have ruled Palestine, and for centuries before that, the Greeks were in charge. During all that time, Greek culture, with its idols, its materialism, and its tendency toward sexual license have filtered into Jewish life. Virtue is regarded as quaint. Vice is often redefined as freedom. What has traditionally been forbidden is now accepted without question. To the Pharisees, it feels as if their world is a ship slowly but surely filling with water.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day respond with a vengeance by teaching a renewed religious identity as Jews. They encourage strict observance of personal purity and dietary laws. They…
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