With all the sharp divisions these days between Christians and so many other groups and individuals - gays, pro-choice advocates, proponents of stem cell research, evolutionists with an atheistical slant - it's hard to imagine Christ as an includer, not an excluder. To many people it must seem like Christianity is about confrontation, polarization, isolation and exclusion. It's important this Holy Week to remember that Jesus brought people close and then transformed them, not the other way around. In fact, it was his bringing them close that often began the transformation.
Consider Zaccheus. Did Jesus begin the relationship by condemning him and mounting a protest march? No, he invited himself over for lunch and there was not even the whiff of a sermon in the air. That very act broke Zaccheus's heart just enough for God to rush in. It was the inclusion that Jesus offered that saved him.
Or consider the woman at the well. Another one of the excluded that Jesus included. He broke all sorts of taboos, a Jewish man sitting with a Samaritan woman who was living with a man she was not married to. He came close, joked with her, brought her back to life, saved her soul, without argument, without anger, without condemnation.
The same is true of the woman caught in adultery. Where was the condemnation? Where was the exclusion? Where was the sermon? The ones who got the sermon were the ones who hated her and wanted to kill her. Jesus would not condemn her, not hate her, certainly not kill her, but defend her and include her in his love.
It never stopped. Men and women with leprosy were touched. Romans were not marginalized. Nor the Jews who wanted to kill the Romans. Nor, despite his clashes with them, did Jesus exclude the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin who condemned him. He made room for Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea and other religious leaders. There was room in his band not only for the tax collector Matthew, but Simon the Zealot, the activist who would have loved to kill Matthew for collaborating with the Roman occupiers, but who instead wound up loving to love Matthew because of the love Jesus gave to Simon himself.
Were children excluded because they were children? Women because they were women? Soldiers because they were soldiers? Murderers? Thieves? Prostitutes or sex trade workers?
Jesus was the great includer. The very act of inclusion changed people from the inside out. Today, many Christians act as if the world around them and all its people must change first and then they will love them. Jesus loved the world and the people first and then both world and people changed for the better.