We continue our Ethos series in our Mesa gatherings by reflecting on the life of Jesus and his inclusive way with others.
At Christ Church, it's our conviction that everyone is welcome because everyone is uniquely loved and included by God.
Just look at the life and work of Jesus.
One of his most famous sayings, encapsulates this hope so clearly:
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls..." - Jesus words as remembered in Matthew 11:28-30
Looking at the life of Jesus, you see him always associating with the bruised, the broken, the left out, the troubling, the riff-raff, the wrong folks altogether. In the Scriptures these folks are typically described as "sinners." And it is true - they were sinners (just like the rest of us!). The reality, however, is that people of faith are too often known for pointing the finger and putting fences around the holy things of God instead of breaking down barriers that exclude people.
Jesus was always about inclusion. And it always seemed to get under the skin of the "religious" leaders.
A few stories we reflected on:
1) Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4:4-26): lots of different "troubling" things for the religious leaders of Jesus' day in this passage. But we wrestled with the questions: Why was this woman coming alone to draw water in the high noon day sun when most women would've gone gone together at first light in the morning? Who were these five husbands of hers? Where was true worship to be found for Jesus in light of the Samritan emphasis on the Mountain and the prevailing, Jewish understanding of that day that it was to be found in the City's Temple?
2) The four friends who tear off the roof of Jesus house to help their paralyzed friend ( this story is in Matthew, Mark and Luke but go ahead and start with Wikipedia): this one is too good to be believed. Jesus has stopped in Capernaum to rest, regroup and refine his message. He wasn't allowed to teach in any congregations so he basically gave talks in his house. And one day, on the Sabbath, four dudes show with their paralyzed friend on a mat. There are too many people there, so they do what anyone would do in that situation: they tear off the roof of Jesus house and drop their friend down into the main event. For Jesus, their faith and boldness was the main event. And Jesus went out of his way to tell the paralyzed man that his sins were in fact forgiven. This is important, because so many folks back then (and maybe still today?) think that sinfulness either by the paralyzed or sick person or by upwards of three generations removed equaled bodily harm or punishment from God. Not true... more on that in another Mesa. Suffice it to say, paralyzed and sick folks were often deemed unclean and left out of gatherings. So, Jesus healed that man in Capernaum that day and went about his business. The religious leaders, however, were on the case, charging Jesus with heresy - a capital offense.
There's also a lot going on here. It was probably around Passover so there would've been 350,000-400,000 pilgrims in the city of Jerusalem and around the Temple that day. Jesus, according to John, had a plan: he didn't walk in and stumble upon a scene he would be upset about - he walked in taking the time to make a whip ahead of time to go in and make a statement.
Here's what Steve Chalke of OasisUK, a British Baptist pastor and friend to Christ Church has written in his book Intelligent Church:
One of the most striking stories about Jesus is that of the cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21; Mark 11; John 2). It is often assumed that the point of this story is the injustice of the excessive profit made in the house of God. However, on closer examination we see that it’s a battle for inclusion, not simply against inflation...
The whole Temple site was considered sanctified ground, but it was regarded as increasingly holy or sacred the deeper one got into the building. On the periphery was the Court of the Gentiles, which was accessible to Gentiles and Jews alike. This was the temple’s outer courtyard where the money changers did their business by exchanging Roman cash for temple currency — the only coinage that enabled the faithful to buy animals for sacrifice. Forgiveness did not come cheap in Jerusalem. The next area of the Temple was designated the Court of Women, accessible only to Jews, including their wives and children (though anyone with a visible disability was barred). Farther in again came the Court of the Jews, which was open only to Jewish men. Beyond this came a closely guarded section of the Temple, accessible only to the priests, containing the altar for the sacrifice of animals. At the centre of the Temple was the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum, the place in which God was believed to be incarnate on earth. The Holy of Holies, which was shielded behind a curtain, could be accessed only by the high priest — and even he was restricted to one visit per year. The effect of this hierarchy was that the people who most needed to encounter the God of love (the outcasts, the physically disabled, the poor, the Gentiles, the women and children) were unable to gain access to the only place in which they could meet him. God was more securely guarded than any president or king in history. In this way the Temple functioned as a gigantic filtration system — an exclusion machine that mirrored Jewish society under the boot of the priests and Pharisees. The Temple-cleansing story — Jesus battling against the unfair and unjust regime of the day — is really all about God’s rejection of, and anger at, this exclusion. When Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables, the Temple was thrown into chaos, and, temporarily at least, the system ground to a halt. Matthew records the resulting confusion: those who were blind and lame pushed right past the guards and rushed into the Temple to find Jesus; he healed them, and did so without the need for animal sacrifice on their part. Not only was this an act of inclusion; it was also an act of revolution. It was a demonstration of Christ’s messianic values — throwing down the gauntlet to the old guard. Jesus had come to destroy their stranglehold and announce that the kingdom of God was available to all. It was a declaration of intent. The Temple cleansing was not a sudden spur-of-the-moment idea or the action of a hotheaded rebel. Jesus was making a deliberate stand for the poor and excluded.
Lot's to consider. Lot's to ponder. Lot's to pray about.
We live in an age that's forgotten the inclusive, intentional ways of Jesus. We so easily divide over political (or religious) divisions, or exclude people based on what they look like or who they are. And then there are the very subtle, but powerful ways we exclude in our communities - equally an injustice. We hope to reclaim the inclusive ways of Jesus at Christ Church.