Welcoming the Outsider
In John 2:12-22, Jesus does something that initially seems quite strange. He went to the temple and, seeing the vendors and money-changers in the temple courtyard, proceeded to make a whip out of cords and drive them out of the temple area. . I would imagine a stunt like that would definitely earn him a place on the evening news. After all, what in the world was he doing?
Here’s what we have to understand: The temple courtyard that the vendors and moneychangers had set up shop in was supposed to be reserved for the Gentiles (people who were not Jews). Gentiles weren’t allowed to go into the temple itself or even the inner courtyards of the temple. That outermost courtyard was the only part of the temple complex the Gentiles were allowed to go into, so it was called very appropriately the “Court of the Gentiles.” It was the only place they had to pray and worship God.
However, unfortunately for them, their prayer space had been turned by the Jews into a bustling market place. I mean, think about what it must have been like. People were selling animals like oxen, sheep, and pigeons. The place was a barnyard. There were animal sounds, animal smells, and people probably trying to negotiate with the vendors to get a good deal.
Imagine trying to get some time alone with God and read the Bible and pray in a place like that! I have trouble concentrating if someone’s clicking their pen or tapping their foot repeatedly. So I’m pretty sure the Gentiles weren’t able to concentrate very well either.
So think about what the Jews were doing. They were effectively excluding the Gentiles from worshipping God. They could have set up shop somewhere else, but they didn’t. They set up shop right in the middle of the Court of the Gentiles. The Old Testament says they were supposed to be reaching out to the Gentiles and encouraging them to worship Yahweh, but here they were excluding and insulting the Gentiles who came to worship.
This speaks volumes about what God desires for his church. We dare not allow any kind of second-class citizenship to develop or look down our noses on “outsiders.”
Instead, we should be doing everything we can to make this church the kind of spiritual family God wants it to be—a place for the outsider to be welcomed, a place for the outcast to be accepted, a place for the orphan to find a family, and a place for people who are alone to be surrounded by a community of people that loves them and cares about them.
Because, you know what? That’s the way God’s acted toward us. There was a time when we were spiritual orphans. We were fatherless, destitute, and entirely powerless to rescue ourselves or do anything about our spiritual condition. But for those of us who have put our trust in Jesus, the Bible says that God has adopted us into his family. He loved us—even as orphans—and he welcomed us outsiders into his family. He adopted us.
How can we turn around after experiencing such adoption through Christ and tolerate any kind of prejudice, sense of superiority, or exclusiveness either in our lives or in the fellowship of our church? God adopted us when we were spiritual orphans and welcomed us when we were outsiders, so shouldn’t we welcome all kinds of so-called “outsiders” into this church? Shouldn’t we even go out of our way to form meaningful relationships with people who, in many circles, would be passed over?
Inspired by one of my pastor friends who has expressed a similar desire, my prayer for the church I pastor is that it would be the kind of place where a corporate executive and a janitor meet together for discipleship, and it’s not the corporate executive discipling or teaching the janitor but rather the janitor teaching the corporate executive. I hope I get to see that.