Thursday, April 19, 2012

Exclusive Claims, Inclusive Aims

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also . . .” (John 10:16).

Exclusive claims. Inclusive aims.

The minute you begin the Christian life, the moment you take a step on the Jesus way and begin living his life, you’ll find yourself in this tension. There are some things that simply do not work properly without tension. Relieve the tension on guitar strings and you’ll get no music. The Christian life is not too different from this.

Jesus made exclusive claims. He said he was the gate for the sheep; he said no one came to Father except through him; he said that if you have seen him you have seen the Father; he told very devout people in his day that they were blind because they couldn’t accept his words; he told top-flight Bible scholars that they were ignorant because they refused to see that scripture pointed to him. Time and time again in John’s gospel Jesus speaks of his own identity with variations on “I am.”

But Jesus also had radically inclusive aims. For Jews, Samaria was a very bad neighborhood – but Jesus gladly went there. Lepers were to be avoided and quarantined – but Jesus willingly touched them. Tax collectors were thieves – but Jesus had a good time at their parties. No decent Rabbi would be caught dead in the presence of a prostitute – but Jesus allowed one such woman to weep at his feet. Jesus had “other sheep” and he was intent on bringing them into the fold.

This tension can be uncomfortable, even tiresome. But we need to be careful about hastily seeking to resolve what makes us uneasy.

Holding deep convictions about Jesus’ exclusive claims should never produce a heart that is stingy and small, or a reach to the world that is stunted in its scope. And embracing the world with a generous heart, inclusive and broad, should never produce thinking about Jesus that has morphed into something generic and benign.

Some of us are very clear about what we believe about Jesus, but we’re ensconced in a small world that looks like we look and thinks like we think. Others of us are intent on making the tent wide, vaulting over the ethnic or ideological walls that so easily divide us, but discovering in mid-air that we’ve left a clear and compelling word of ‘good news’ about Jesus.

Exclusive claims. Inclusive aims. They must be held together, no matter how uneasy it makes us.

Ever tempted to ease this tension? How are you most likely to do so?

Help us, Lord Jesus, to love and to treasure both your claims and your aims. Grant us the boldness of deep convictions firmly held. Grant us compassionate hearts intent on bringing all people into the care of the good shepherd. We pray this in your powerful and merciful name. Amen.

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