“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:11-13).
We owe so much to the Jewish forefathers of the faith, and in a strange way, even to their rejection of Christ, because that has made it possible for us Gentiles to be included. And I believe we need to be on guard against thinking now we have an inside track on God, lest the same thing happen to us.
It’s a theme repeated throughout the Old and New Testament: those on the inside rebel, get hard hearts and reject the truth; those on the outside receive it gladly. Jesus told parable after parable about the invited guests and those at the front of the line being usurped by “outsiders” – latecomers if you will. Of course this is all a part of God’s long-range plan for both Jews and Gentiles to be saved, but I do believed there is something to becoming stodgy, smug and self-important in our faith.
It might be good for us to think of ourselves as outsiders – as uninvited guests who got in on the party only because the invited guests had other things to do. It might be good for us to identify more with prostitutes and sinners (“ragamuffins” according to Brennan Manning) than with the religious, lest we too become like the Scribes and Pharisees (“beware the leaven of the Pharisees” Matthew 16:6).
It might be good for us to be eternally grateful for the grace of God that has somehow found us when we are so undeserving. No background. No pedigree. We’re like a bunch of mutts who got picked up at the pound one day short of our doom by a generous master who bought up the whole place – adopted us all.
Why do I suggest we think like this? Because it is necessary to the Gospel of Welcome for us to offer the good news to other undeserving folks like us. If we ever think of ourselves as above anyone, then we are closing someone off to the gospel.
Stay an outsider. Stay a sinner (don’t sin, but see yourself as one). Stay grateful. Stay amazed that you got “in.” And stay close to the door, so you can welcome in other vagabonds and ruffians like yourself.
Like that grand lady still shining her light over those coming to America: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” (Emma Lazarus, from her sonnet, “The New Colossus” now bronzed inside the Statue of Liberty.)
Lest we forget who we are.