Christ’s radical message of inclusivity

Presbyterian fellows show how Jesus broke social norms

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Mae Mu via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — Jesus has a seat at the table for those who have been ostracized or marginalized.

That was the message behind a virtual chapel service led by summer fellows from the Presbyterian Office of Public Witness (OPW) and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations (PMUN) on Wednesday.

Mark 2:15-17 was the biblical backdrop for the service, which is held each week for Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) employees and coordinated by staff members from the Compassion, Peace & Justice ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

In Mark, Jesus is having dinner and keeping company with tax collectors and sinners along with his disciples. The Pharisees, who were the keepers of the law, question why he would do that.

“When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” (Mark 2:17)

Reading from Marcus J. Borg’s book “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” (HarperOne, 2015), fellow Kristen Roehrig explained that Jesus was challenging the purity system and social norms of his time by dining with people who would have been considered by the Pharisees to be impure.

Kristen Roehrig (Screenshot)

“Refusing to share a meal with someone was a form of social ostracism,” Roehrig noted. “No decent person would share a meal with an outcast.”

Jesus’ willingness to dine with supposedly impure people reflected his radically alternative social vision — an inclusive community that welcomed women, the poor and other marginalized people, Roehrig noted.

After meditating on that, chapel goers were given the chance to answer these questions: “Why do you think Jesus sat and ate with people considered to be undesirable and what can we learn from his example?”

Answers posted in the chat box included, “In God’s creation all are desirable,” “Jesus wanted us to know that all of us are the same,” and “Jesus identified with all people in their own uniqueness and loved them unconditionally.”

The comments aligned with a prayer lifted up during service that said, “Thank you, Jesus, for reminding us that you came for each and every one of us. We lift our hearts so that you might fill them with new love and compassion for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Help us to use this day and all days for your good, accepting all people into God’s community. In you, we find endless hope, peace, forgiveness and nourishment.”

After service, the fellows took part in a brief question-and-answer session to introduce themselves to chapel goers and share what it’s been like to work with the PC(USA). They also talked about what they’ve been concentrating on during their fellowships, which last about nine weeks.

The fellows are as follows:

  • Maggie Collins, a PMUN fellow focusing on Indigenous history
  • Reilly Harrison, who focuses on immigration
  • Danita Nelson, special projects
  • Samuel E. Peal, domestic affairs
  • Kristen Roehrig, international policy (Israel-Palestine and Cuba)
  • Hayley Scheir, domestic and environmental issues.

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