Have you ever noticed as you read the gospels how often Jesus eats with outcasts? In fact, Jesus did it so often he was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton. For example, “As Jesus sat at dinner in the house many tax–collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.” (Matthew 9:10)
In the first century, you didn’t eat with those who weren’t part of your group, or with those who were beneath you. By eating with these outcasts, Jesus proclaimed that they were insiders. They had value and dignity. They were included.
That’s why all four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) remember Jesus for this practice. The radical inclusiveness of Jesus was an important part of his total message that God’s kingdom was being put in place, and that God’s way of doing things would overturn human ways.
No wonder the authorities of the day were appalled at Jesus’ behaviour. He ate with people who were deemed unworthy and untouchable by both the sacred and secular society of their day. It is very clear that in Jesus’ eyes, everyone is made in the image of God. All people bear the likeness of God. Everyone had worth and dignity before God.
When we defame, demean, devaluate, dehumanize, demonize, and discriminate against any human being, we denigrate God’s image or likeness in them; and ultimately, in ourselves as well. Until we begin to see this truth, and begin living it out in our words and actions, we will continue to perpetrate all the ugliness and ungodliness we deplore (or say we do) in the world.
The church has too often been guilty of excluding people. We insist they have to believe like us, or behave like us, or think like us if they are to belong. But the example of Jesus shows us that that’s simply not so. All are included, according to Jesus, because all are made in the image of God. Period. End of story.
Nothing else counts. It simply doesn’t matter if you believe differently, or think differently, or behave differently. Our ways of believing and our ways of interpreting the sacred texts, or our ways of living out the faith are not the only valid and viable vehicles of truth.
We have to find ways to include others, and become communities of radical inclusion. When we do so, we follow in the way of Jesus who ate with “tax–collectors and sinners”.
I am proud to be part of a church which seeks to be broadly welcoming and inclusive. I delight in being part of a church which works hard not to marginalize others. I am pleased to be in a church which understands that we must strive to interpret our sacred texts in the light of centuries of scholarship (both sacred and secular). We understand that the Bible was written in the context of an ancient world view that is different than ours, and we must continue to interpret these ancient writings in ever new ways to find the truth for contemporary society in them.
Our sacred texts come from a different world than ours. We can’t treat them as if they are fossilized truth. So we must read our sacred scriptures with a keen awareness of the differences between the time they were written and our own time. We cannot just understand them with a naïve literalism. We must avail ourselves of the lens of thousands of years of scholarship to help us understand them.
The heart of the gospel is the unconditional love Jesus expressed for everyone. The Greek word for that love is “agape”. It is a verb of action and not of feeling. It means to “will the best for others and to do all we can to see that it happens for them”. It is a self–giving love which is willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the other. It is caring, compassion, seeking justice and equality for our brothers and sisters.
One of the practical results of this is that I will be proud to be with folks from other churches to have a table at Pride Day on May 23rd in Rotary Park. We will be with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, saying the God’s love is so large that it encompasses everyone, without exception. My column last week was entitled “Finding God in the Park.” Perhaps as we share this time and space together on Saturday, we will find God in the Park.
The example of Jesus shows us that whenever we embrace another, we will indeed find God. Whenever we include and welcome another, we will also be welcomed. As Jesus did, we must continue to foster a climate of inclusiveness, knowing that all people have value and dignity as people of God.
As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will, surely, perish together as fools.”
Yme Woensdregt is pastor at Christ Anglican Church in Cranbrook.