People are often shocked when I tell them that Jesus didn’t preach to people and tell them to love one another. To be sure he did command the Church to love; starting with God and with each other but it was not a general principle. It was a specific demand, “Love one another as I have loved you”. The message that Jesus preached was different from that. He preached a message of repentance. He preached a message that calls people to recognise that God and the heavenly kingdom were coming to them and that they need to be ready for that. This is why Jesus was preaching, calling others to come and join him in the drawing and healing all those who were in need of rescue. (Matthew 4.12-23)
Jesus did not preach a gospel of toleration. He did not come to make people nice. He came that people would be delivered from sin and death. He came to turn this world not upside down – for it is already that – but right side up. Jesus came to show us how much God loves us and to make us aware that God desires and is pursuing us. Jesus not to see people included but for the purpose of deliverance.
There is a reason why we have a general confession in the liturgy. It is not because one or even some of us are bad. We all have things that we need to repent of; every last one of us. All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of God’s glory and we are, as a consequence, all in the same boat. We are in need of mercy and grace. We are in need of help and rescue precisely because there is, as the Book of Common Prayer says, “No health (salvation) in us.” Each and all of us are called to repentance and to embrace both God and each other as family.
Preaching a gospel of inclusion means that some needs to become something that they are not already. They have a lower status and need to be raised up to be like everyone else. Looking at someone with a “tag” or a label creates distance and therefore disunity. Tolerance allows for people to harbour feelings envy and even hatred that can lead to harmful actions that are hurtful and mortifying to another person. The demand that Jesus makes upon his Church is that we love each other as he does is not tolerance. Such love seeks the highest good of its object so that you are willing to serve the object of your love, suffer humiliation for doing so and even being willing to sacrifice your life if necessary.
Jesus starts his ministry in the north and the west of Israel. He spent his time calling and drawing people into the Lord’s Table. He consistently invited people to come and enjoy the preparation of the great meal: to let the smells create anticipation and the hopes of fulfilling all that might be. Think of it this way. Recently we had friends over for supper. We had a great meal of spaghetti with salad and garlic bread. Days before the friends were preparing us so that we were not disappointed when their three-year-old did not each much. Well, the tables were turned. The three-year-old gulped down her supper and then demolished the bowl of ice cream, strawberries and bananas for dessert. Her parents were shocked, in a bit of disbelief but nevertheless happy. And the fellowship was even deeper because they came and we ate together.
It is what the Church was founded on and it is what holds the Church together today. Those early disciples, with little training or prep, heard the message and responded without delay. They followed him as his disciples (akoloutheo). The Church began at the supper table, without much warning or fanfare but they followed him. They followed him from the table into the streets and places of worship. They followed him in the heat, the rain and the snow. They follow him on the road and rowed him in the boat. They followed when it was easy and when it was hard. Think of it as divine inclusion in the messianic mission and in the Incarnation.
The question is, “Will you come and follow Jesus?”