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Jesus loves outsiders

It is common to hear the claim, or even feel the sentiment ourselves, that Christianity is not inclusive. Some claim that Christianity is exclusionary,trans-exclusionary, homophobic or hetero-normative. But, are these claims true? What if Christianity is actually more inclusive than we think?  What if Christianity’s founder, Jesus of Nazareth, is more radically inclusive than we realise?

The woman’s request

Consider an encounter with Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, where He appears at first to be anything but inclusive:
“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet He could not keep His presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.”  (Mark 7:24-26)
A woman comes to Jesus, asking Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. She comes in a vulnerable and desperate state. But, Jesus seems to refuse her request, calling her a dog in the process:
“First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  (Mark 7:27)
Nevertheless, the narrative ends with Jesus giving her what she wants. She returns home to find her daughter lying in bed with the demon gone. Jesus heals her daughter. 
Mark includes this strikingly odd encounter not, as some claim, to show Jesus being “healed” of His racism and prejudice, but to present amazingly good news. 

Jesus' heart is for the marginalised in our society

Jesus crosses the divide

The key to interpreting this episode is in its location. We are told Jesus is on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, which was predominantly Gentile territory. What was Jesus, God’s promised rescuer of Israel, doing in Gentile territory? 
Incredibly, Jesus is there to provide rescue, not just for ethnic Israel, but also for the “unclean” Gentiles. 
In the verses preceding this encounter, Jesus rejects the religious elite of Israel, the Pharisees, and redirects His mission to the unclean Gentiles. It is a controversial, ground-breaking move. 

Yet, far from being exclusionary, the very fact that Jesus is east of the Sea of Galilee shows He is pioneering inclusivity. Jesus crosses the divide and offers God’s promised rescue to outsiders.

However, Jesus’ controversial redirection is not completely novel. Though unexpected, it is not without precedent. As we read the Old Testament, we discover it has always been God’s plan to include people from all nations, to make those not ethnically Jewish His people too (Isaiah 19:23-25; 60:1-3). 
So, we find that this Gentile woman, whose gender, ethnicity and religion meant there was every reason for Jesus to refuse her request, still receives God’s promised rescue. Though she is undeserving, and though seemingly insurmountable barriers stand between her and Jesus, she still receives the mercy of God. 
Her request is granted because Jesus is willing to cross the chasm. 

Jesus tests her faith

Recall that Jesus initially refused her request forcefully. So, what changed? Why did Jesus give her what she wanted?
“First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”  (Mark 7:27-29)

We see incredible humility in the woman’s response. She comes to Him on her knees, pleading with him. Furthermore, she is willing to accept that she has no rightful claim to Jesus’ healing power.

Nevertheless, we also see her confidence in Jesus’ compassion. Her reply shows she believes that Jesus’ heart is tender and kind, that He cares more about rescuing people than the inconvenience of societal barriers.  Today, in the same way, Jesus is pleased with those who come to Him, confident in His compassion. He is pleased with those who still come to Him despite being told they do not fit in, or are made to feel they are not welcome. He is pleased when the marginalised in our society today - people with disabilities, mental illness and people from the LGBT+ community come to Him. He is pleased when all people come to Him in faith because His heart is for  all people. 

Jesus loves the marginalised

What if Jesus is more radically inclusive than we realise? In this encounter, He crosses the divide to give unclean Gentiles God’s promised rescue. While His initial response to the woman appears offensive, His heart is ultimately full of love and compassion. Likewise, people in the LGBT+ community may find Jesus’ teaching offensive at first glance and be tempted to dismiss Christianity entirely. But, closer examination reveals the tender and merciful heart of God towards those who need rescue. Yes, following Jesus will mean denying ourselves and our desires, whether for fame, success, wealth or sex. But Jesus will prevent noone from coming humbly to Him for rescue. He invites everyone to come and join God’s family.
The Syro-Phoenician woman asks Jesus only for crumbs. Yet, she receives bread. She does not get half a miracle, but whole healing for her daughter. This Gentile woman gets a miracle that even Jesus’ own Jewish hometown did not receive. 

Those who come humbly to the pioneer of radical inclusivity will never be short changed. So, come to Jesus, whoever you are. His arms are wide open. 

This article was originally published in the spring 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the spring 2022 edition of Ascend