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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Inclusive Jesus

A little more from The Inclusive God: Reclaiming Theology for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare and Hugh Rayment-Pickard before it goes back to the library (p. 58-59) ......

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When we look with an open mind at the portrayal of Jesus in the Gospels, we notice that he has very little interest in religious organizations and their rules. When he does speak of religion, it is generally to point out its dangers or to offer blistering critique. Jesus hardly mentions the idea of 'church' at all - indeed the word 'church' does not appear in three of the four Gospels. Instead Jesus speaks repeatedly about his mission to announce the arrival of what he calls 'the Kingdom of God'. This new kingdom is a new social order. And, as Jesus explains, this new social order places great emphasis upon 'inclusion'.

Although there are indications in the Gospels that Jesus thought of himself as a purely Jewish messiah and that the kingdom would only be for Jews, Jesus' predominant concerns are inclusive. He says (Luke 4) that his 'good news' will reach out to those at every social margin: good news for the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. Jesus keeps the company of the despised sections of society: 'publicans', tax collectors, Samaritans and prostitutes. One of the defining features of Jesus' ministry is his friendship with women and the absence in his teaching of any pejoratives about women. He mixes with lepers and he challenges the idea that anyone can be ritually 'unclean' .....

Jesus' inclusive ideal is perhaps best captured in his image of the eschatological feast. The fulfilment of his kingdom will be like a vast meal with a place for everyone at the table. The feast will not include those who have neglected their neighbors in need, but there are no categorical exclusions on the grounds of gender, divorce, race, sexual orientation or any physical differences. The inheritors of the kingdom will be those who hear his word and keep it: in other words, the future belongs to those who practice the inclusive ethics of the kingdom.

It is telling that the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal an alternative vision of 'perfect' human community among the Essene sect. The Essenes saw themselves as a messianic elite, a 'house of holiness'. They defined themselves by their exclusiveness, and they were obsessed with hierarchies, purity and protocols. Their view of perfect community was a stratified theocracy which could only come about once their foes had been destroyed. The priests would act as generals and there would be no mercy for the 'wicked flesh' of their enemies. Unlike Jesus' open feast, places at the Essene banquet were strictly reserved for insiders. Their imagined banquet specifically excludes 'anyone halt or blind or lame, or a man in whose body is a permanent defect, or a man affected by an impurity of his flesh'. Such glimpses of Essene religion throw into relief the inclusive and counter-cultural character of Jesus' teaching about ideal community ......

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