Over the last several weeks (and even months), I have been thinking about how revolutionary Jesus’ teachings were in his culture. They’re even revolutionary in our culture, today. I think it’s easy for us to look back at the Gospels and say, “Oh, that was a good thing that Jesus did, but it’s not that big of a deal.” However, I think that we often underestimate how different Jesus’ teachings were from the teachings of the religious leaders of his time. The idea that has really connected with me is: how radically inclusive Jesus was. His message was one that extended to all people, when the religion of the Jewish temple religion was limited to people who fit the perfect scenario.
A few months ago, I wrote a paper about Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53 – 8:11). The main focus of my paper was to look at the historicity of the story and to then try to determine whether or not it has value for us today. You might be asking the question, “Why are you questioning whether that story happened or not?” You might not be asking that question, but the answer is related to disagreements among scholars surrounding the story. Some people believe that Jesus never had this encounter because the earliest manuscripts of the Gospel of John never include this story. This account is found in later manuscripts in different places… it’s even found in some manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel. I don’t want to spend a lot of time in this post looking at that story, but I would encourage you to read that story again.
I bring up this idea because my main conclusion in that paper simply that whether or not this account actually happened, it was entirely plausible because it fit Jesus’ character based on several other passages found in the Gospels. I have spent some time compiling a list of places in the Gospels where Jesus includes people that traditional Jewish religion would not have included. I am hoping to use this list towards a future project highlighting the radical inclusivity of Jesus.
Jesus’ ministry was unique and unconventional. Just to highlight a few accounts, we see Jesus accepting: tax collectors, gentiles, individuals with sexual sin, crippled people, lepers, the blind, a criminal, etc. Each of these types of people could have been rejected by the Jewish religion in some manner.
As I have been thinking about these various scenarios, I thought to myself, “How am I seeking to be radically inclusive like Jesus was?” I have to admit, that was a really hard question to answer. Why is it hard? It’s not because I don’t want to be inclusive, but inclusivity takes initiative and intentionality. And both of those concepts take effort. I think that when I fail to be inclusive, it’s generally because I’m being lazy. (That was a really hard sentence to write.) I am a creature of habit and it’s easy for me to become comfortable following a routine that requires minimal additional effort. So when I see someone who I might need to include in my life, in my church, or in the kingdom of God, I can’t just keep walking and act like someone else is going to include them. I’m certain that Jesus didn’t walk past the blind beggar in Luke 18 and say, “Someone else can take care of your request” (although there were several people who would have preferred that, v. 39). Instead, Jesus took time to stop and heal this man. This was an example of the kingdom of God in action.
So, I ask you, and I ask myself today, “How are we being radically inclusive, the way Jesus was?”