I planted a new rose bush in my back yard this year, and I’ve enjoyed watching it grow.
First, new branches and leaves appeared, then buds and blooms. To encourage growth, I cut away dead flowers and prune the stems. This change allows new growth – more buds and blooms. This change brings new life.
The first followers of Jesus experienced change. They were Jews who were now following Jesus. They recognized him as God’s Messiah – God’s anointed leader who had been promised to the Jewish people centuries before. But there were others following Jesus also. These were called gentiles – non-Jews. They were included as followers of Jesus.
Many struggled with this. This was a major change to their faith. This was a new way of doing things.
In the gospel of Matthew we read a story that speaks to this struggle. It explodes the myth that Jesus is only for the Jews. We meet a woman – a gentile – who comes to Jesus seeking help for her daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28). As would be expected by the culture, at first Jesus ignores her. When she pleads for help, Jesus states what all Jews would assume – the promise of the Messiah is for the Jews alone.
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus argues.
But this woman will not be rebuffed. She is persistent. She is willing to take Jesus’ blessing in any way she can get it.
“Yes, Lord,” she replies, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Her tenacity turns things around. Suddenly Jesus realizes that this woman isn’t just there hoping to see him perform a magic act. She has real faith – she trusts Jesus above all else. She is committing all she is and all she has – especially her daughter – to him. Jesus responds, “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done as you wish.”
It is faith in Jesus that defines us as his followers – as his community. It is not our ancestors. It is not eating the right foods or keeping the right laws. It is not having the right clothes or having the right friends. It is not our nationality, race or language that makes us a disciple of Jesus. The only thing that defines a follower of Jesus is our faith in him alone.
Sometimes this is hard for us. We like to be around those who are like us – those who share our opinions, those who share our interests, those who share our values. It’s comfortable. It causes less tension. We know what to expect. It doesn’t challenge our way of life.
But Jesus includes all who trust in him in his family. As his Church, we are also called to include all his faithful people. This creates diversity. Diversity is good, it is needed. Diversity allows different talents and ideas to be incorporated in the community. This diversity makes us complete.
This diversity will help us grow. When different ideas come together, new insights will develop. This is not a new process. This is the way that God has led his people for thousands of years. This is even one of the roles of the Holy Spirit, to teach us today what we need to know.
Through the last 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has led the Church into new understandings of God’s truth. This does not mean that God has changed but that we are evolving and growing in our ability to discern God’s truth.
Growth and change are part of life. There’s an old saying that if you’re not growing you’re dying. It’s definitely true for roses. I also think it is true for God’s people. Jesus has called all his faithful followers together as his body in his world – he has called us together as the Church. The church is diverse. We have differing backgrounds, differing knowledge, and differing opinions. And in that diversity the Lord has provided all that is needed for us to be his people, to do his work in the world.
When we pull together and embrace our diversity, we will grow. We will be filled with the life of God. We will be the people that our Lord can use to accomplish his work in our world.