Jesus was deeply inclusive, and it drove the Pharisees nuts. At his first adult synagogue service, He quoted Isaiah as His personal mission statement.
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” – Isa. 61
They loved it and praised Him thoroughly. Until, that is, his next statement…
“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”
Jesus’ suggestion that God might love and care for people other than Jews flips their opinion 180 degrees. From their amazement and praise, they move to wanting to kill Him for blasphemy. The Jews of Jesus’ day simply would not tolerate Jesus’ inclusiveness.
In today’s reading, we have another phrase Jesus famously quoted in His own ministry. “for my house will be called a house of prayer.” He says it as He attacks the temple money changers in a fit of rage. And we usually take it to be a statement about the disruptive noise of the animals, the cheating scales of the money changers, and the misuse of the Temple. But if you read this in context, you find that it is once again a statement of inclusiveness.
Every Jew upon hearing a short quote from the Old Testament would know the entire passage and context immediately. So they would have known that Jesus was speaking about people who were declared by the Law to be unacceptable to God yet by God through Isaiah to be even more acceptable than the Jews themselves. Eunuchs, foreigners, Gentiles who the Pharisees feel should have no place in the Temple, are proclaimed to be closer to God than the Jews themselves. And it was in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place where Gentiles were allowed to worship God, that the money changers were disrupting worship with their animal sales. After all, they were only Gentiles.
If Jesus can again and again proclaim a gospel that includes, shouldn’t we too? Or will we, like the Pharisees, interpret the Law as exclusionary and risk finding ourselves opposing Jesus Himself?