The early church reached out to Jews and Gentiles alike. This was a major shift in what Israel had been brought up believing. They were expecting a saviour who would liberate Israel and bring it back to its halcyon days. There was no mention of Gentiles. So, now there were Christian Jews who believed that the Jewish laws of the Old Testament must be obeyed while also believing that Christ was the Son of God. But, Gentiles did not obey the Jewish laws of the Old Testament. Christian Jews and Gentile Christians were at odds with this, making it difficult for the disciples to keep these early churches on the right path. Paul makes a great point as written in The Message: "It's not the cut of the knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It's the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin that makes a Jew." Couldn't the inverse be said about the Gentile Christian?
What makes us all equal is that we are all sinners - no one more or less than the other. We all go through the same door to salvation - the grace of Jesus. There are lots of ways for us to set ourselves apart from one another - it's human nature to want to be known for our good works. But, it doesn't matter which Bible you read, which Christian band you listen to, which Christian radio program you listen to or whether you are conservative or liberal. As it says in The Message: We are all in the same sinking boat.
This is not to say that you should not take a stand or do what you believe to be right or to go with the mob so as not to be different. Paul explains in these same passages that he is not saying there should be no Jews who follow the rituals of their past. What he is saying is that those rituals are not the point. The point is simple: we are all sinners, we are all equal, and the only way to everlasting life is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can follow the rituals, just don't lose site of the point of it all.
So, next time I start judging a Christian brother or sister who is following a different path than me, I hope I remember today's reading.