(BWM and British Mission Board members are welcomed with open arms in Arusha, Tanzania)
No Outsiders Here!
By Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26
A tax collector, a synagogue leader who has just lost his daughter, and a bleeding woman all bump into Jesus one day; what happens next? They all find someone who cares!
Each of these characters worked their way into Jesus’ life one day as he was in the town of Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee. Each of them was somehow considered an outsider in one way or another, and Jesus opened his heart to each of them.
Later in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20), when talking about how to treat those in the church who have sinned, Jesus tells them first to talk with them one on one. Approach them with humility and compassion, share with them how they have sinned against you, and offer them the opportunity to repent. If they don’t accept that, go again with a trusted friend or church leader who can lend support in your effort to welcome them back into the community. If they still don’t listen, consult with the whole church and let the offender know that the church is ready to welcome them back. Jesus then says, “If the member refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.”
What do you suppose Jesus meant by that? For years I have concluded that this meant to cast them aside and shun them. But wait, Matthew himself was a tax collector, and what did Jesus do in our text for today? He called Matthew as one of his disciples. The Jews hated tax collectors because they were usually locals whom the Romans had hired to collect the taxes that would not go for local schools, roads, and community improvements. No, these taxes when to Rome so that the Emperor could live a lavish lifestyle and grow his army to take over more and more land. Tax collectors were, to put it mildly, reviled.
Next, Jesus hears from a synagogue leader whose daughter has just passed away. He humbly asks Jesus to come to his house, lay his hand on her, and bring her back to life. His faith is indeed profound. We must understand that when Matthew’s Gospel was written, it was a time of fierce hatred between the Christians of the early church and Jews. But here is a Jewish religious leader asking for help with profound trust, and Jesus immediately gets up and makes his way to the man’s home.
But wait, along the way, a woman suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years has the faith to trust that she will be healed even if she touches the hem of Jesus’ garment. Thinking that she can do this without Jesus even being aware, as soon as Jesus senses that something has happened, he questions who touched him. When the woman confesses that it was her, Jesus gives credit for the healing to the woman’s faith as he says, “Your faith has made you well.”
When Jesus finally makes his way to the church leader’s home, he sends the mourners away and extends his hand to the girl who finds new life. Amazing!
These are stories of profound inclusion of folks seen as unclean, outsiders, sinners, and even enemies. Jesus shares God’s love and grace in each case with great compassion.
Is this not our call today? Is this not our mission as well? In a day when we are all too quick to divide ourselves by theology, gender, politics, and national boundaries, this is a call to lay all of that aside. This is a call for profound inclusion. This is central to Jesus and his mission. How does it impact yours?