We are often told today that Jesus taught radical ‘acceptance, tolerance, and inclusion’. Well, he did open the door to many the Pharisees thought beyond hope, and on the other hand he excluded many of the Pharisees themselves.
Let’s start with the Sermon on the Mount. In it he excludes:
Those whose righteousness is not “better than the righteousness of the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees.” (Matthew 5:20)
“Those who call people idiots or curse them.” (Matthew 5:22)
“Those who do not gouge out their eyes or slice off their hands if these body parts are leading them to sin or lust.” (Matthew 5:27-30)
“Those who won’t ‘forgive’ others.” (Matthew 6:15) [I put ‘forgive’ in quotes because I think modern people not brought up in the Church cannot distinguish between forgiving and condoning.]
Those who fail to “find the narrow gate” and find the “highway to hell is broad.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
“Every tree that does not produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:19)
Those who call Jesus “‘Lord, Lord,’ but do not actually do the will of my Father in Heaven” (Matthew 7:21-22) even if they “prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.” (Matthew 7:22)
And in Luke’s version, sorrows await those who are “rich . . . fat and prosperous . . . who laugh . . . who are praised by the crowds.” (Luke 6:24-26) I certainly hope that ‘rich’ means ‘not poor in spirit’ as I have enough sins without accepting any guilt for my financial status, class, race, or gender!
True enough, Jesus also tells us to ‘love our enemies,’ as the Father “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” But given the texts above, ‘love’ does not seem to mean ultimate unconditional inclusion! And this is just the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 13, explaining some parables, he declares that the wicked will not merely be excluded, but thrown “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And in Matthew 25: 41-43, “The King will turn to those on the left and say “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me . . .” This sounds like radical exclusion to me!
A better way to say it is that the inclusion of Jesus is not the inclusion of the world, and the exclusion of Jesus is not that of the world either. He sought out tax collectors, prostitutes, and ‘sinners’ because he thought them more likely to repent, not because he wanted to validate their lifestyle. Whereas what I call the ‘Jesus of the comment threads’ says something different to these people; more like ‘You may now become scribes and Pharisees while continuing to be tax collectors and prostitutes’.
I’ve been thinking that one of the main things Jesus was about was the ‘democratization of virtue’. I agree that he preached no brand new morality. But the Jews thought only the learned could achieve moral virtue, and the Greeks thought that only those with the leisure time to cultivate the skills of virtue could become virtuous. Part of the good news for the poor is that they too could cultivate virtue. If you are like Bernard Shaw’s character Alfred Doolittle, who declares, “Morals? I can’t afford ‘em, guvnor!” and would rather not hear otherwise, the Gospel will not be good news for you.
I know that in our time, ‘relationship’ and positive witness is more important usually than apologetic arguments. But the radical moral relativist ‘Jesus of the comment threads’ is so different from the Jesus of the Gospels that we need to use the Jesus of the Gospels to attack the ‘Jesus of the comment threads’ head on.
N.B., I have refrained from quoting the Gospel of John because there are some who accept only the Synoptic Gospels and the Epistle of James as representing the actual teaching of Jesus. And, to err on the opposite side, the Marcionites and the Dispensationalists tended to find only the writings of John and Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews relevant to their lives. We need to bring the whole Bible back together.