This blog post is part of a larger teaching about the Missiology of the Gospel of Luke and can be found in this recording MTMM Missiology for the Margins, If you are interested serving the marginalised you may be interested in the ‘Mission, Theology and Ministry for the Margins’ online course.
In the social and cultural world of Jesus, there were distinct boundary markers that effectively excluded certain individuals from full participation in their communities. These markers, both overt and implied, were rooted in cultural and religious norms. They served as mechanisms for inclusion and exclusion, defining who belonged and who did not. Some of the key markers included adherence to food laws, strict observance of the Sabbath, and the practice of circumcision, all of which were seen as defining characteristics of those who were part of the covenant community.
Furthermore, disabilities of various kinds, such as leprosy, blindness, and deafness, resulted in individuals being cast outside the confines of the temple, keeping them away from the presence of God. This practice of exclusion found validation in ancient scriptural texts like Leviticus 21:16–20 (ESV), which specified that those with physical blemishes were prohibited from approaching God:
‘Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles."
Moreover, similar to contemporary society, ancient society often marginalized those without economic resources, women, and children. In a world where a substantial number of children died in infancy, some individuals regarded young children as sub-human until they reached adulthood, a perspective Jesus challenged when said, "Let the children come to me."
Additionally, in the Greco-Roman world (which differed from the Jewish world of Jesus but was more relevant to Luke's initial readership), infanticide was a tragically common practice.
In the Jewish context, Tax Collectors were widely viewed as collaborators with the oppressive Roman occupation, and Samaritans were often regarded as members of a cult, barely above the status of dogs.
In this context, the Gospel of Luke reveals the radical and subversive nature of the kingdom of God, characterized by compassion and inclusivity.
Within Luke's Gospel, one consistently finds accounts of encounters between Jesus and individuals considered outsiders by society. Almost on every page, Jesus engages with those excluded from the community on account of disease, ethnicity, moral status, or occupation.
Seven of these encounters stand out.
1. **Chapter 5:12-16 - Healing a Leper:** In this passage, Jesus encounters a man afflicted with leprosy, which not only caused physical disfigurement but also led to social isolation. Lepers were cast out from their families, friends, and places of worship, finding solace only among fellow outcasts. Against cultural norms that dictated people to keep their distance from lepers, Jesus defied expectations by approaching and touching the untouchable. Not only did he heal the man physically, but he also reintegrated him into the community by instructing him to show himself to the priest- perhaps this was an ancient way if signposting to external agencies!.
2. **Chapter 5:17-26 - Forgiveness of a Paralyzed Man:** In this story, Jesus encounters a paralyzed man who, due to his condition, couldn't even access the room where Jesus was. Some might have viewed him as a sinner, reflecting the common belief that God only afflicts those who sin. However, Jesus extends friendship and forgiveness to this outsider by declaring, "Friend, your sins are forgiven." Here, the man is not an outsider but a friend included in God's missional kingdom project. Moreover, Jesus's action removes any stigma associated with the man's condition, effectively granting him a front-row seat at the place of the presence, not at the temple as such but before he whom is the embodiment of mercy.
3. **Luke 7 - The Centurion's Servant:** In this narrative, Jesus demonstrates inclusion by intervening to heal the highly valued servant of a Roman centurion. Despite being an outsider, the servant is shown compassion, challenging conventional wisdom about the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. While some speculations suggest a more complex sexual relationship between the centurion and his servant, it's clear, whatever view one takes, that Jesus's inclusivity extends to occupying Roman forces.
4. **Luke 7:36-50 - Encounter with a Sinful Woman:** Jesus extends compassion to a sinful woman, possibly a prostitute who has alienated herself through her lifestyle and wrongdoing. Jesus not only includes those who have been victimized but also those who have played an active role in their own marginalization. By showing compassion to this outsider, Jesus challenges the religious leaders who question his actions, demonstrating his commitment to inclusive love.
5. **Luke 8:26-29 - Healing a Demon-Possessed Man:** In this passage, Jesus ministers to a man with multiple and complex needs. This man exhibited bizarre and socially strange behavior, living among tombs and engaging in self-harm. He was a pariah even among the gentiles, living among pig farmers. From a Jewish religious perspective, he couldn't have been more of an outsider- well that’s not true because he also was inhabited by a host of demons! Excluded & Unclean. Despite these challenges, Jesus exemplifies love and inclusion by approaching the broken and bringing hope to the hopeless. He extends love to a man who may have believed himself unlovable.
6. **Luke 19 - Zacchaeus the Tax Collector and Blind Bartimaeus:** This chapter presents two compelling encounters. Firstly, Zacchaeus, a tax collector notorious for exploiting his neighbors and collaborating with the occupying forces, is singled out by Jesus for inclusion. Jesus says ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today’, demonstrating that even the despised are not beyond the reach of his transforming mercy. Additionally, Blind Bartimaeus, a beggar marginalized by poverty and disability, is given the opportunity for healing and inclusion.
In these encounters, Jesus consistently demonstrates his heart for the outsiders, whether they are lepers, paralytics, centurions, slaves, sinful women, demon-possessed individuals, beggars, or collaborators.
Jesus extends his inclusivity beyond the social, political, and religious barriers erected for division and exclusion, welcoming all to the banquet of the Kingdom.
In his embodiment of the compassionate rule of the Father, Jesus declared in Luke 19:10: "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost’