America is supposed to be a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl” in which lots of different types of people live together and intermingle. Still, many of us live within homogeneous groupings. Like kids in the cafeteria, we gravitate toward people of similar ethnic/racial, economic, and educational backgrounds. We rarely live up to our own ideals when it comes to diversity within our friendships and closest relationships.
Jesus genuinely welcomed and paid attention to anyone who came his way. He spent time with the religious leaders and with the people called “sinners,” the people who were rejected by the religious ones. He dined at the houses of the rich and powerful, and he insisted on honoring the people who were considered “least”—people who were poor and sick and outcasts. In a really extraordinary way for a Jewish man of his time, he welcomed women into his close circle of companions. He told stories to dignify ethnic “others” who were considered enemies. And he encouraged all of these people to gather together and rub shoulders with one another.
In Matthew’s gospel, he writes:
“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them…” (Matthew 5:1-2).
So when Matthew tells us that Jesus’ disciples came to listen to him speak, it wasn’t just a group of pious middle-class religious men sitting around a campfire together. Jesus’ disciples included a tax collector who was hated by his countrymen because he worked for the Romans and a zealot who was a Jewish nationalist ready to usurp the Romans.
No one is excluded from Jesus’ invitation to follow him and listen to his teaching. And all of us who choose to go with him are making a choice to walk alongside people who come with different ideas about identity from diverse political and religious backgrounds.
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