This book addresses the problem of living in multi-cultural religious communities. It develops a biblical research concerning the members of the community of Jesus and his disciples called the community of the thirteen. Did they experience conflicts and crisis of cultural nature? What was the impact of their cultural differences on their community life? Addressing these problems the book also offers viable solutions, as well as practical insights into new ways of living evangelical lifestyle.
The cultural differences within the community of the thirteen were fundamental. Even if they were a source of some misunderstandings, they did not bring the community of the thirteen into chaos. How was the community able to live in harmony with such deep cultural differences?
In Africa nowadays, religious communities are becoming more and more multi-cultural in the sense that in the same community we can find Europeans, Americans, Asians and Africans who themselves come from different countries and different ethnic groups. That is why community religious life in Africa, and perhaps even elsewhere, is experiencing a crisis, not of vocations or identity but of misunderstanding. One often hears remarks such as: “Oh these Africans, you can’t understand them!” or “Oh these missionaries, it’s impossible to understand them!”
Faced with this mutual misunderstanding, some missionaries have begun to study the culture of the society where they are living: a good and praiseworthy initiative. Others require the Africans to change their habits, a process which is sometimes imposed through formation programmes. On the other hand, the Africans expect the missionaries to learn their cultures and respect and adopt them. In other words, just as the foreign missionaries require Africans to adopt their ways and ideas, so too, do Africans hope the same with regard to the missionaries. Obviously this is never expressed as clearly as we have here, but the misunderstanding arises from the conflict between these two tendencies. And many supporters of either side are convinced that the problems of misunderstanding are more often at a cultural level rather than due to the personalities of the members of the community.
This crisis of misunderstanding, which we ourselves have experienced, needs to be addressed and carefully discerned. Both sides must take steps in this direction because the survival of religious community life depends on it. And nobody can stick rigidly to their position and expect to live happily in a multi-cultural community. Since, therefore the phenomenon of multi-cultural communities is irreversible, it is urgent to reflect on the variety of cultural identities that may be found in religious communities so that they can be channeled and gathered into a single body with a single aim.
It is in this context that we have undertaken the following biblical research concerning the members of the community of Jesus and his disciples, which we call The Community of the Thirteen. In fact, we know that Jesus formed a community life with the twelve. Did they succeed in living a fraternal community life? Did they experience conflicts and crises of a cultural nature? Obviously the members of the community of the thirteen were all Jews. However, there is nothing to prove that they shared the same religious culture and that they never had any conflicts because of this. So what was the impact of their differences on their community life?
To respond to these questions our biblical analysis takes into consideration the interventions of the disciples whose names appear in the lists of the Twelve (Mt 10:1-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). Sometimes our analysis tackles the disciples in groups, as in the case of the three men from Bethsaida, namely Peter, Andrew and Philip. The same applies to the two sons of Zebedee. The other disciples such as Thomas, Judas not the Iscariot and Judas Iscariot are taken one by one. This analysis is based on their attitudes and words regarding their faith in Jesus. It will also consider the silence of Matthew, the tax collector (Mt 9:9).
Moreover, we know that the life of any religious community is based on contemplation, fraternal life and apostolic life. As a religious community does not live on faith alone, we have widened the horizons of the religious cultural identity of the community of the thirteen by investigating their professional cultural outlook, their affective and political cultural attitude within the perspective of this community’s religious cultural nature. The last two chapters are dedicated respectively to the intercultural problem of religious communities today and how to face these challenges in Africa.
At the end of this introduction, one question presents itself: what was the religious cultural outlook of Jesus? Both this question and the answers arising from it are to be found all through our study. In fact there is no single chapter in the book, which deals with the religious culture identity of the Master, because it was expressed in so many ways through that of the members of his community. The disciples recognised Jesus as Lord and God (Jn 20:28). Consequently, no matter what their religious culture, they expressed their faith in him.
By imprinting his religious cultural identity on the disciples, Jesus gave them his own, and similarly in giving them a new professional cultural face he offered them his own, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17), and by directing his disciples towards a new affective outlook, he consecrated them in his own: “Father … I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 17:26).
Therefore, the religious cultural persona of Jesus transcends the sum of the cultural identities of his disciples. It embraces all of them, and through them, all those who, through the apostolic preaching (Jn 17:20), will come to believe in his name, In fact, all those who today or tomorrow will come to believe in Jesus will look to the religious cultural identity of the disciples, which was grafted on to them by the Man of Nazareth, present in their midst.