It is painful to be excluded. Being involved in youth ministry over the years I often had a heart for the kids that did not quite seem to fit in. They were the last to be picked for an activity, they often did not have a partner when our program called for it, and they sometimes found themselves awkwardly alone. The situation was even sadder when I would find out that people were being excluded because of the exclusivity of the group. For arbitrary reasons, kids were deciding that others should be left out. And so they were.
Lest we think we are much better though, we all know that in society arbitrary exclusivity has wreaked havoc on many lives: women were excluded from voting, blacks were excluded from being fully human, and Jews were excluded from being human at all. And in the Church we have not been much better at times; we all know what it can be like to go to a new community week after week and never be acknowledged by anyone. Worse, many people feel that in the Church they simply cannot find a home: whether because of their past, their family, or because they have been hurt.
Now all of these kinds of exclusivity are an abomination and need to be overcome at all times, especially by people of faith. If we are to be an evangelizing community it is our job to be hospitable, especially keeping an eye out for those people who seem to be excluded by false notions of exclusivity, those people on the margins of society.
With this being said, I think it is important to mention the other side of the coin: I think that perhaps in our efforts to overcome exclusivity, we—meaning modern society—have taken inclusivity too far, and this has been detrimental to our faith. So priests give homilies in order to not offend anyone, people place aside parts of the Tradition in order to make others a bit more comfortable, and theologians even work their best to prune the particularity, the exclusivity of Christ, so that he becomes just one more good historical person, but certainly not a savior, and certainly not God.
Yet I believe this is truly detrimental to our faith. For as we see in the scriptures today: our faith is grounded exclusively on the exclusivity of Jesus being the Christ, and it is the uniqueness, the inimitability, the exceptionality and the particularity of Jesus that allows us to truly be a inclusive community. We can only be loving, we can only be hospitable, we can only be inclusive, because of who Jesus is.
And so who is this Jesus? In the first reading, we see that he is the one who offers healing. When the crowds were amazed at the healing of the crippled man, Peter had one answer for them that should be the same answer we speak today: It was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, whom God raised from the dead: in his name this man stands before you healed. And healing comes from no other place, even today. When we are sick and are plagued with problems and struggling to survive and filled with horrors and our soul is bogged down: It is in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean where we can be healed. It is in no other name. And it is because we have been healed, in body and soul, that we can extend that healing to others, to love the sinner, recognize the goodness in others, welcome the stranger, and be the inclusive community that we are called to be.
But who else is our savior? In the second reading today we see that he is the one through which we can all be called God’s children. Lest we forget the reality of sin, that once we were all far off, that once we rejected, over and over again the hand in covenant that God has given us, that once God became man in order to unite us with himself once and for all—and we rejected him. Lest we forget that even though rejected that same God-man took to the cross, died and rose again to set us free and unite us once again with the Father. No other person, deity, god, idol, religion, system, philosophy can offer us this: It is in Jesus Christ that we can now be called children of God. It is in no other name. And being children of God means that we are all connected, that we are all drawn together into one family as the People of God: and therefore the exclusive adoption that comes exclusively through Christ is what constitutes us as an inclusive family, as brothers and sisters.
But who else is our savior? In the Gospel we see that he is the Good Shepherd. Like that ancient icon painted on a wall in the dark dungeons of the catacombs in Rome, Christ has from the beginning been our Good Shepherd. When each of us is that ‘one sheep’ who goes astray he leaves the 99 in order to seek us out. When we are un-deserving of his mercy and stink with the filth of sheep he sets out in search of our souls. When we run from him to carry out our own will, when we think we are autonomously constituted, when we move onto the wrong path and follow the broad way, he is there with his crook and his staff to bring us back to his embrace. And he alone is the good shepherd, for he alone had the ability to lay down his life freely for his sheep, and he alone had the freedom to raise it up again. It was in him and only him that we who were once far off were brought back to his love. And it is only because of him, that we too can search for lost sheep to bring them home to God’s inclusive love.
It is true that there can be elements of truth in goodness outside the visible structures of the Church. Yet they are derived from only one source. It is only in the exclusivity of Jesus as the Christ, the savior, that truth, goodness and beauty are once again made available to the world. So when asked by skeptics and hopeful secularists and zealous haters of religion how it is possible for all of humanity to be gathered together in one inclusive family, hopefully we have the courage to say as Peter did:
There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. Only in Jesus can we be saved.