“All are welcome.”
Being welcome is an interesting notion. There are some places that you walk into and you just feel at home. I find this with my parent’s house in Christchurch. I turn up, walk in, and generally go straight to the fridge to see what’s going down (teenage habits dies hard, even a decade on).
On the flip side, we all know what it’s like to feel unwelcome. When I was 16, I remember being invited by a friend to attend her Great Aunt’s 90th birthday. I recall walking into the venue, her Great Aunt giving me a quick scan and reacting in horror, saying “What is he doing here?!” The sense of being unwelcome was overwhelming!
Whether we articulate it or not, we often define “welcome” as “acceptable”. You see, the main reason I wasn’t welcome at my friend’s birthday party was my upbringing. My family wasn’t wealthy, and it showed in the way I dressed and acted. I wasn’t cultured, and I remember staring at the lobster buffet, caviar, and gourmet food at the time wondering if anything was actually edible. Conversations were strained. I felt unacceptable. I was unwelcome.
Jesus spent a large part of his ministry challenging the principle of who is welcome. When He said “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest”, He meant all. In the eyes of Jesus, no one is excluded. And no one means liars, cheats, people who lose their temper occasionally, thieves, murderers, and anyone of any background. All. This was an affront to the Jewish teachers at the time – the list of people who were excluded was long, and only the elite were truly considered worthy.
Following Jesus’ ministry, Paul elaborated further on being welcome – “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ, there is hope for acceptance. Jesus never wrote off people who were on the fringe of society, and the early church followed his example, welcoming orphans, slaves, and outcasts. I have spent much of my life oscillating between feeling accepted and outcast in church – but what encourages me is that Jesus’ attitude towards me has never changed: I am still acceptable in Him, no matter what I’ve done.This is the message of the Gospel: hope.
For all of us, there is hope that we can be welcome. Christians (including myself) don’t always portray this well, but Jesus’ message is clear: All may be redeemed. All may experience life in all its fullness. All may be forgiven.