Tracing the overarching narrative of scripture, one can see even in the midst of the evolving Jewish understanding of the character of God a progression or evolution in the elevation of the Other –
‘You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.’
‘You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.’
‘Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.‘
These hints of social justice for the alien and outcast were elevated, heightened and intensified in both the major and minor prophets (Amos, for example, forges an explicit and unbreakable link between the call for justice toward those outside the community and the righteousness of God).
The celebration of the fact we are each hand-crafted works from divine fingertips, regardless of our religion (or lack thereof), ethnicity, citizenship, gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, or any other variety in which our humanity is celebrated and expressed is woven throughout the story of scripture.
This radical inclusion is best seen in the person of Jesus who saved his statements of exclusion only for those who would make it difficult for others to find their way to YHVH.
Think about it.
The countless stipulations and demands for conformity in the Old Testament law were fulfilled in the very person of Jesus Christ – who broke cultural, religious and even political boundaries by including any and all into his new way of living, standing in solidarity with Others as the way of reconciliation ::
The samaritan woman – scorned by the Jewish status quo for worshiping YHVH the ‘wrong way’ on the ‘wrong mountain.’
The syrophoenician woman – whom didn’t worship YHVH at all, but instead likely had false idols to which she subscribed deity.
The centurion’s ‘servant’ – another gentile oppressor of God’s people, likely engaging in amoral behavior and certainly of no consequence to an oppressed Jewish rabbi.
The blind and lame beggars – sent to the margins of society, the popular view was their disabilities were acts of divine retribution for sinful behavior – either their own or that of their parents.
The lepers – each of whom carried not only a socially unacceptable stigma, but the very real and present danger of an uncurable and fatal disease.
The man with a withered hand – lingering in the synagogue and hoping for a miracle on the sabbath, he was seen as unclean to those in religious authority.
The unbelieving paralytic -lowered from a rooftop into the compassionate presence of Jesus by his faithful friends.
The disciples – dropouts and outcasts, this ragtag band of curiously single Jewish men was composed of a diversity of cultural, socio-economical and political categories – including one whom he knew would betray him.
Christ’s counter-cultural engagement of the Other stands in stark contrast to the way in which many Christians interpret their charge to be ‘in the world, but not of it.’
In 21st century western evangelicalism (and even beyond) the church is primarily known for its exclusion of the Other, rather than the radical inclusion of all personified in Christ.
A thinking individual must wonder :: at what point did we begin to move backwards and away from the ‘come as you are culture’ which Jesus created and move toward excluding Others with whom we disagree… and what can be done to change?
What do you think?
Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.