“I have never read any theologian who claims that God is particularly interested in religion anyways.” — Annie Dillard
Killing time in an airport, I struck up a conversation with a stranger. When asked what I “do”, I told this man that I write about Jesus’ teachings. The man, hearing the name “Jesus” but not hearing any tip-off code words, fired off the test questions: “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? That he shed his blood for our sins? That he died and rose again? That we will be with him forever if we repent and are baptized?” I forgot a few in the litany because his machine-gun delivery leveled me.
This guy wanted to see if I passed the test. Was I in or out? Were we friends or enemies? One of “them” or one “us”? Did I believe correctly? Did I believe the right things?
My test-wielding friend mirrors the rigor of an Ivy League admissions committee. They have all sorts of standards that I did not meet. My humble applications never made it to any of those committees at Yale, Brown, or Harvard. The intern in the admissions office cashed my application check, glanced at my SAT score, chuckled and then sent my ten-page application and essays to the recycle bin.
But Jesus didn’t do any of this. When he selected followers he accepted the rejects. His membership requirements defied human logic. He seemed let anyone in, never pre-qualifying the crowds he taught. They had not confessed that he was the Messiah. They had neither matriculated through a proper course of study, nor walked the Romans Road. In fact, they had not yet read any of the New Testament. How could these people properly handle his teaching without the prerequisites?
Yet anyone who came with a question, he taught. Whenever he was at dinner, with whomever, he taught. He seemed to think what he taught was the point, and that everyone needed to hear it, regardless of their background, religion (Samaritans?! Are you kidding?!), social standing (sinful women?), righteousness or knowledge of the texts. Not all stayed, but all had opportunity to hear what he had to say.
He just taught. And he let the teachings set the standards. His teachings came across hard and direct. The people would sort themselves out according to their desire to follow, according to their recognition of their own needs. It’s still that way.
Jesus didn’t seek to exclude. He sought to include everyone in the kingdom who desired it. Nothing they had or had not done could disqualify someone seeking, sometimes even someone barely seeking. Jesus wanted them to come to him. He still does.
The teachings are the point. Our qualifications are not.
Do you try to figure out if people are “in” or “out”?
Is that what we’re supposed to do, according to Jesus?
Could we have been taught wrongly about judging people’s beliefs?
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