“Jesus only excluded those who excluded others”
I’m not sure if the “Jesus only excluded those who excluded” slogan is still making the rounds. During my Diocese of L.A. days, one bishop was fond of it. It is part of the progressive canon.
It packs a certain punch. It at least glances toward the Bible as our primary and unique testimony to Jesus; it is short and punchy; it seems to make a point Jesus himself made about mercy, in that those who receive it from God must extend it to other people or face divine wrath.
But of course that’s not what was meant at all. It was about “inclusion,” meaning ordination and marriage rites, for those celebrating sexual proclivities either warned against or not affirmed in the Scriptures. “Jesus only excluded those who excluded others” became a debate (and *gasp* even listening and dialogue) stopper. Anybody and anything had to be affirmed, or run afoul of the inclusive Jesus, independent of what he actually said or did according the the Scriptures.
More than that, the slogan isn’t true.
In the Gospel of Luke, arguably the most “inclusive” Gospel by virtue of the prominence and roles of women and Gentiles, and provocative parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, Jesus makes a staggering, exclusionary claim,
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ (Luke 8:9-10 ESV)
The parables, the much beloved story telling method by which Jesus imparted knowledge of the Kingdom of God and his place in bringing it to completion, are meant to sort people out, by design excluding those who don’t know “the secrets of the Kingdom of God.”
Matthew is more emphatic, noting that the disciples asked not just the meaning of a story, but why Jesus used parables at all,
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ (Matthew 13:10-15 ESV)
Mark makes clear the exclusionary impact of what Jesus is doing (key phrase emphasized),
And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that
“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” (Mark 4:10-12 ESV)
Jesus says that the parables are intended to create “you and them” (Matthew), “insiders and outsiders” (Mark) and “you and ‘the others’” (Luke).
Were I to argue back as a progressive, I would say something like, “Well, the ‘secrets of the Kingdom’” must include the inclusion of those who were previously excluded;” or “The ‘them/outsiders/others’ are those who did not respond to Jesus’ message of inclusion.”
Except that in all three Gospels cited, the exclusionary impact of the parables is attached to the Parable of the Sower. Jesus there explains who are his disciples, following him into the Kingdom of God, and who are the “them/outsiders/others,”
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:11-15 ESV)
Those who hear, hold onto, minister from and endure for the word of God are headed into the Kingdom of God.
Those who are deceived by other worldviews and have the word “taken away from their hearts,” those who will not endure for the word when challenged, and those who devote themselves either to perceived problems or to pleasures are the ones who won’t be saved. It isn’t about their capacity to “include” others, it’s about their capacity to be both hearers and doers of God’s word.
The “weed choked” group in the parable comes remarkably close to those who’ve made the most noise about “inclusive Jesus.” They’re the ones who’ve gone on and on about their cares - their sense of oppression and entitlement - and their pleasures as the defining works of The Episcopal Church. And whose results as far as the overall vitality of the church have been manifestly fruitless.
Willful Biblical ignorance among the laity (“seeds on the path”) and too much wilting in the face of revisionists on the part of clergy (“no root”) have enabled the blight, of course.
“Jesus only excluded those who excluded others” is just the sort of sloppy religiosity, deaf to the word of God, that can make a soul’s difference between citizenship in the Kingdom of God and eternal exclusion from it.
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