The Perils of Exclusivity

The 1st century Christians had no Christian Bible, no New Testament. However, they did have what we call The Old Testament or The Hebrew Scriptures.

The 1st century teachers combed through the Old Testament scrolls and took careful note of all references to the promised Messiah. They knew that all of these texts had, somehow, to the life of Jesus. In a sense, they were integrating factually though occasionally with a little embellishment, their own Hebrew heritage with Christian revelation.

By the time Matthew began to compile his Gospel he had an abundant pallet of interpretations from which to paint the highlights of his portrait of Jesus.

One of the most beloved and colourful of tableaus resulting from this process is that of the Magi’s visit to the manger. Through it we celebrate not only the advent of the Promised One but also the universality of His message and mission.

The Magi represent the Gentile world. There having been drawn to the Infant Savior is in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words: "Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn."

And so the visit of the Magi was seen by the first Jewish Christians as being a convincing sign that Jesus was indeed the promised one. This meant that they could, in conscience be, at once, good Jews and good Christians or, if you prefer, good Christian Jews.

You see Christianity was not really a new religion. It was perceived by Jesus’ followers as being the logical extension of the faith of their fathers.

However, this apparently comfortable relationship between Church and Temple broke down when Gentile converts came into the Church in great numbers.

It would seem that Jesus, as Messiah was one thing, as was a Messiah honored and respected by the Gentiles like the Magi, But a Messiah sent by God for Jew and Gentile alike! NEVER! That was another matter altogether and it cast an entirely different light on the whole picture.

Their outrage was understandable.

What had been for centuries been the exclusive inheritance of the people of Israel had suddenly become, at least potentially, the property of every Gentile in the known world. The whole history of the chosen people, the promises of the one God and the teachings of priests, prophets and kings from Abraham to the present suddenly lost its treasured exclusivity. Peter and Paul became involved in bitter public argument.

Countless Jewish converts, some scholars suggest a majority, rejected Christianity as Temple and Church went their separate ways. The impact on individual families must have been monumental!

This, of course, is a simplistic historical sketch but what comes through is a lamentable example of the destructive nature of exclusivity.

Today’s Gospel challenged and continues to challenge restrictive privilege. It contains a forceful message for those who would exclude all but a clearly defined elite from full status here in North America or anywhere else. In fact it speaks to all who discriminate for any reason at any level.

It is also a timely message for our young people who can be so very cruel in their exclusion of certain children from their social activities. Namely those who are judged to be uncool!

Exclusivity is a favourite offspring of pride and selfishness

A good resolution for each one of us would be to be more INclusive than EXclusive.

At Bethlehem everyone was "IN" …no one was "OUT."

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