For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
Titus 2:11 (NIV)
While in Israel I attended Shabat services at the National Synagogue. It was a fascinating experience for me. Prior to the service I watched outside the main entrance as men kissed their wives and children before separating. As an adult male I was allowed to enter and sit on the main floor. Women and children were not allowed in that section. I found it curious how many women just waited in the lobby for their husbands, seemingly uninterested in the service.
One of the things that marked the early followers of Jesus was an inclusivity that stood in stark contrast to the Jewish culture out of which it sprang. The Jewish cultural of that day was a hierarchical system in which gender, education, and socio-economic status separated people into clearly defined strata of those who were blessed and acceptable to God and those to whom, they believed, God looked down His divine nose.
Jesus blew all of that up. He spoke to women publicly and women were among his most devout followers. In fact, evidence suggests that Jesus’ ministry was largely bankrolled by wealthy women. Jesus’ closest disciples were relatively poor and uneducated yokels from outside the ranks of worldly power. Jesus healed Romans, women, and social outcasts. Despite the intense internal conflict it created, Jesus’ early followers did not discriminate in their gatherings and worship. Women, men, Jews, Greeks, and Romans all worshiped together. Everyone sat together at the table to partake in the “love feast” which culminated in sharing the bread and the cup of Communion. Even slaves and their masters were seated at the Lord’s table as equals in the eyes of God. I can scarcely imagine what a mind bending, social paradigm shift this must have been.
In today’s chapter, Paul urges the young leader Titus to devote himself to his teaching to older men, younger men, older women, younger women, and slaves. Even the fact that Titus is expected to minister to each group of individual in their respective spiritual needs was a radical departure from the norm.
Today I’m wrestling in thought and spirit with the ways our human institutions, across history, always drift back towards exclusivity. Race, nationality, gender, age, education, occupation, and socio-economic standing are among the demarkation points from which society and the institutional church, and we as members thereof, exclude others. As I enter my second half-century on this earthly journey, my desire is that my life be increasingly marked by the inclusivity that marked Jesus’ example and teaching. I want my words and actions to exemplify love, patience, peace, kindness, and gentleness with all.
Featured image of First United Methodist Church (Shreveport, Louisiana) Love Feast as covered in this Shreveport Times article.