One of the most frustrating things I encounter in the church today is that Jesus has been hijacked by religion. What I mean by that is religion tends to create categories: saved and unsaved, believer and unbeliever, Christian and non-Christian, saint and sinner. As we create these categories, Jesus becomes associated with the saints, the Christians, the believers, and the saved. And it isn’t too long til those folks who do not identify with those categories begin to believe that Jesus is not for them.
What is frustrating is that the gospels tell a quite different story. Jesus did not associate himself according to religious categories. In fact, Jesus was quite comfortable associating himself with all sorts of irreligious folks. It seems his kingdom is altogether different than our religious categories.
The gospel of John begins with two stories of people meeting Jesus: Nicodemus and an unnamed woman at a watering well. These two stories, I believe, show us who Jesus invites into his kingdom.*
Nicodemus was a well-established Jewish religious leader.
The woman at the well was a Samaritan who is not even named.
– A man
– Jewish religious leader
– Noble past
– Comes to Jesus at night
– Initiates the interaction with Jesus
– From the city
– Well educated
Woman at the Well
– A woman
– Samaritan (considered enemies to the Jews)
– Non professional
– A questionable past
– Meets Jesus in the middle of the day
– Jesus initiates the interaction
– From the country
– Probably not well educated
So who is invited into Jesus’ kingdom?
Everyone from Nicodemus to the woman at the well. Or to say it more simply: Everyone! Everyone is invited. And just like Nicodemus and the woman at the well, everyone is also invited to leave behind their old categories, old ways of thinking, old identities, old beliefs, and old ways of living. Because everyone is invited by Jesus to enter into his Kingdom.
Jesus cannot be hijacked or categorized. We must be born anew.
*this list (and insight) comes from Eugene Peterson’s “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places”