Was Jesus Unwelcoming?

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions."
Mark 10:21-22
All are welcome! Whether you are rich or poor, or you consider yourself gay or straight, transgender, or questioning, you are most welcome at our church. One of the things I love about the heart of Jesus and the gospel message is that all are welcome. No one is turned away at the doorstep of Christ. Part of our vision as a church is to extend the welcome of Jesus. But that begs the question—what does the welcome of Jesus really mean and practically look like? Using the verses listed above, let's explore that for a moment.

The etymology of our English word 'welcome' is a combination of two words: ‘will’—meaning to desire or wish, and ‘cuma’—meaning a guest or to enter. Therefore, to welcome someone literally means to desire their presence. It means that you want them with you. So, to extend the welcome of Jesus means to express and embody his desire for all to come to him in repentance and faith regardless of age, sex, race, background, gender orientation, economic or social status, etc. The day a church closes it’s doors to certain types of people is the day the church should close its doors for good because it has ceased to express the heart of Christ. But this begs another question—does all-welcoming mean all-affirming?

Did the welcoming posture of Jesus mean that he affirmed and endorsed the desires and personal orientation of each person who came to him? We see that this certainly wasn’t the case with the rich young ruler who came to Jesus. Two things are striking from that story—1) Jesus loved the man, and 2) Jesus’ words caused the man to walk away sad. Think about that. The man went away from the loving and welcoming heart of Jesus feeling sad! Wait, what?! If that happened today, I bet many people (including myself) would be tempted to put the blame on Jesus for making this person feel sad and unwelcome. But was Jesus being unwelcoming in that moment? Did Jesus turn him away at the door? How do we reconcile that with our understanding of love and the welcoming heart of Jesus?  

Jesus saw that this young man was entrapped in the grip of his possessions and caught up in the grip of greed. His possessions and passions were mastering his heart and life. So the way Jesus welcomed the man was by being honest about what following him would mean. It would mean dying to his instinctive passions for the things of this earth and experiencing the freedom of living under a different Master and for a different purpose. But instead of saying to Jesus, “I can’t do this without your help. I want to do this but I need you to help me.” Instead of saying to Jesus, “All right, I can’t do this without you, but I would rather have you and follow you than my own wants and desires,” the man just walked away. He wasn’t unwelcomed by Jesus. He wasn’t turned away by Jesus. He walked away because his love for money and possessions wasn’t affirmed by Jesus.

Our culture is preaching to the church that "all-welcoming" must mean "all-affirming." But the welcome of Jesus teaches us that that's not always the case. We see from this story that the love and welcome of Jesus is always honest and upfront with people. This means that extending the welcome of Jesus may not “sit well” with everyone in the moment because it means hearing the truth that regardless of our personal preferences, each one of us will need to die to self and live for Jesus. Coming to Jesus means a willingness to surrender our former passions—even the ones that may seem most instinctive to who we are—to the wisdom, design, and authority of Another. And let's remember that that Other is none other than the One who designed us and loves us more than we love ourselves. Our church welcomes with open arms anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ into our midst. We love them and want them with us! But welcoming them and affirming them as fellow image bearers of God does not mean affirming everything they might believe regarding gender and sexuality.

We don’t know what happened to that rich young ruler who walked away that day, but because we know Jesus loved him, my hope is that the man’s sadness eventually drove him back to Jesus. Maybe Jesus knew that it would? He might have felt unwelcomed by Jesus in the moment, but he truly wasn’t. He was simply being welcomed onto the difficult road of authentic Christian discipleship—the road that our church is trying to walk by faith, and everyone—and I mean everyone— is welcome to join us down that road. It may be a hard road, but Jesus told us it's the way to life (Matthew 7:14) and promises us that it will always be worth it!
Dear Jesus, I hear your call to follow you, and to be honest, it scares me. It scares me because I know what it's going to mean—a daily dying to self and living for you. But Jesus, you are worth it, and I know you will help me each step of the way. You are the Master that when we fail you, you will always forgive us, and when we follow you, you will always fulfill us. Help me to believe that more each day. Amen.
Posted in
Posted in ,