Of cheese and nationalities
During my last trip to the USA I was asked “what makes Swiss cheese…Swiss cheese?”
I had never though of it before. Being Swiss I grew up eating various different kinds of cheese in all forms: in casseroles and pastas, on top of potatoes, cold in a sandwich, in salads or even as fondue.
Swiss cheese, to me, was just always there and nothing to think about. For many Americans I learnt, Swiss cheese is the kind of cheese with holes in it. I also learnt that this type of cheese is often manufactured in North America and not actually in Switzerland.
For me, the answer isn’t in the holes. Switzerland produces around 400 different cheeses; varying in texture and taste. Some with holes but many without. Cheese factories open for tours talk about how milk, bacteria, salt, the mixing process and the storage all play important roles in the taste and texture of the cheese. For any kind of Swiss cheese, all the above could vary. The only common ground is that they are all made in Switzerland (at least for most of them). So if it comes down to my definition of Swiss cheese, I would say it’s just cheese that has been manufactured in Switzerland.
As I was talking to the girl about cheese, it’s origin and manufacturing, something else came to mind. What makes a Swiss person Swiss? Or a Spaniard Spanish? Or a “insert-your-nationality-here” insert-your-nationality-here?”
Is it language? The food we eat? The way we greet one another? Or is it that we all have the same nose?
Although the above might give some indication of your origin, it doesn’t define it. Many countries speak several different languages. Some Swiss might not like cheese. And my nose doesn’t look remotely like my mum’s! Food, language, behaviour and looks might be influenced by my nationality but my nationality is not entirely defined by them.
Most people would probably say that if one holds a country’s passport, that is what nationality they are. Those are the rules we play by. In my case, I am Swiss because I have a Swiss passport. I have a paper to prove it.
Many, if not all of us, have a certain sense of pride for our home country, some more, some less. I know I do. But why is that? Am I any better because I am Swiss? Am I better off in this world?
Paul asked those same questions in Romans 3. He was a Jew, and at that time there were certainly advantages to being a Jew – they were God’s chosen people. But did that mean they were better off? No! They were not. Because everyone, whether Jew or Greek, is under sin (Romans 3:9).
Paul was also a Roman citizen which also had its advantages. He made use of it whenever it was smart to do so, but didn’t boast about it.
In the same way our nationality might bring a certain advantage, or disadvantage, in the world today. As a Swiss, I live in a stable country, have never personally experienced poverty, suffered from a lack of education and can travel quite easily to many countries. These are all advantages that I may use whenever it is smart to do so. But they are nothing to brag or boast about because I didn’t do anything to be born Swiss and am not better than anyone else because of it. Like everyone else, Swiss or other, I sin. I am weak. I fail. Without God I couldn’t do this life.
But there is hope. Back in Paul’s time God didn’t care about Jewish customs. Instead, He sent Peter to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, He sent Paul to Europe and He sent and used many others so that I could be where I am today; so that I could hear the Gospel and accept God’s gift for me: citizenship in heaven.
That’s what matters.
Although different kinds of cheeses still have relevance in the world and being Swiss might give me certain worldly-defined advantages (and disadvantages), no one will care about those things in heaven. God is so much bigger.
Just like the right amount of milk, bacteria, salt and storage all matter in the outcome of a cheese, my nationality, language, favourite food, the way I greet and even my nose make me who I am. Those different factors that make us who we are have relevancy in this earthly life.
What ultimately matters, for all of us, is that we are citizens of heaven, brothers and sisters in Christ. That doesn’t make us any better than anyone else, but it makes Christ better.
And we can boast in Him.