Bible readers know the phrase “Jews and Gentiles,” but not everyone remembers that “Gentiles” are literally “the nations,” meaning all those who are not Jews. The Greeks of the Hellenistic period divided the world into “Greeks and Barbarians,” with “Barbarians” being those who did not speak Greek and who therefore sounded (to Greek ears) as if they said “bar-bar-bar.” I have read, but cannot prove, that the names of Native American tribes all mean “the people” in the languages of each respective tribe. Each tribe viewed the world as inhabited by “the people” (themselves) and everyone else.
The Chinese speak of their “Middle Kingdom,” supposing that they occupy the very center of the earth. The Japanese call their country “the Land of the Rising Sun,” as though each new day begins in Japan. North Americans make world maps and globes which show the United States as the focal point of our planet. We all are self-centered, truth be told.
The English word “pagan” comes from the Latin word for a “villager.” Christianity thrived in the cities of the Roman Empire, while the rural village-people remained unconverted. The English word “heathen” has the same kind of etymology — the cities were well churched but country people who lived in the “heath” were not. Our word “outlandish” mirrors the fact that what is foreign (from out-land) to us, we often regard as odd or strange. Farmers laugh at “city slickers” who come among them, while urbanites make jokes about “country bumpkins.”
In this world of “us” and “them,” of people who are like ourselves and those who are different, the gospel is the great leveller. Christ takes humans of all sorts, kinds, origins, races, economics, cultures and colors, and creates a new humankind. For those in union with Christ, such differences are no longer to matter. To the extent we come short of this goal, we need to repent — and, with God’s help, to seek again to make it a daily reality.