Jesus was no stranger to stirring trouble and saying controversial things when they needed to be said. Throughout their history, and highlighted by the attitudes of religious leaders and others during the time of Jesus, many of the Jews thought that Israel was chosen by God to be special not as a source of light to the world of the One True God but as isolated, unique, and separated from the rest of the world.
It was bad enough that Jesus accepted those tax collectors and sinners—the Jews who had sold out to Rome in their profession or who weren’t worthy enough by whatever standards to be counted among the holy (Matthew 9:10-11). Then at other times Jesus made statements of an even more radical nature like what he said when a Roman centurion approached him to heal his servant:
“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” ~ Matthew 8:10-12
In this statement, the kingdom was what Israel and Judah long hoped for—the restoration of everything God had promised: their own land, their own king, and no fear of surrounding enemies. The sons of the kingdom were the natural born Jews—the supposed children of promise, descendants of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. These were those who by genealogy should be kingdom citizens.
But in a most scandalous statement to the ears of those listening, Jesus said that sons of the kingdom would be thrown out and their places at the table occupied by people from the east and the west—the gentiles, those of other nations which did not have the law and promises of God.
This was Jesus redefining the family of Abraham and thus the family of God. Despite the heart desires of xenophobic religious leaders and others who read past all the global promises of the Old Testament, the true Family would not be one of only a particular physical linage. Pedigree and heritage does not guarantee one a place in the kingdom of God.
Instead it is about one’s relationship to Jesus through faith. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jesus said in John 14:6. To be a Jew and to reject Jesus as their Messiah, the Savior-King leaves one no better off than being a gentile who rejects Jesus the same. And to be a gentile who receives and follows the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, as Savior-King leaves one in the fullness of the promises with a place at the table with the Jews who follow Jesus as well.
This should remind us to look beyond our own pedigree as well—not to think we are right with God because we call ourselves a Christian, belong to a church, own a Bible, or experienced baptism at some point. No, the faith of our parents or grandparents or friends or neighbors will not save us either. Only true faith in Jesus as the one who brings us into the Kingdom will do that.
This post is part of our ongoing journey through the Bible as a church.