We want to remove the barriers around us that hold people back. No matter what we do, we want to ensure that those around us have the opportunity and the choice to join in.
Each of us confronts barriers – every day.
Some barriers are obvious, others less so. Some exist for our own good [a safety barrier around road work for example] while others are not physical barriers, but are a direct result of the thoughts we have [‘I could never do that’].
To make matters even more difficult, personal barriers and the barriers of others can be near impossible to identify.
Despite these difficulties, the inclusion of all people around us in our programs and activities is a critical value – but a difficult one to live out.
The perfect model of inclusion was found in the life of Jesus Christ who, in his short ministry, demonstrated perfect inclusion in a range of settings.
Jesus broke down the barriers with tax collectors and sinners
In the Gospel of Luke, we read about tax collectors and sinners drawing near to Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes [church people concerned with appearance] complained that Jesus was associating with such people (Luke 15:1-2). In response Jesus told three parables about finding the lost; the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) and the lost son (Luke 15:11-32). These parables are a response to the complaints and a vindication of Jesus’ associations with sinners.
Jesus broke down the barriers with Samaritans
In Jesus’ time, Samaritans were not regarded as fully Jewish, but half-Jews and there was a lot of hatred between Jews and Samaritans.
In response to a lawyer’s question as to who is his neighbour, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35). A priest and Levite pass by on the other side of the road, disregarding a man who had been beaten up by robbers and left for dead. But a Samaritan took pity on him, bound up his wounds and paid for his keep in the inn. In the parable, Jesus gave the most unlikely example of a loving neighbour – a Samaritan.
Jesus broke down the barriers with women
In Jesus’ time, women were segregated from men both in synagogues and in the Jerusalem Temple. Segregation of men and women in society was just as thorough.
A self-respecting Jew would not talk to a woman in public, women’s witness had no validity in law courts and they were forbidden to take part in a meal when someone was invited
to the house.
In Luke 4:38-39 we read that after Peter’s mother-in-law’s cure of her illness by Jesus, she rose and served. Jesus permitted her to do this thus freeing her from customs that hindered her.
Jesus did the same by allowing Martha to serve him (Luke 10:38-42). Further, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39). This was the position reserved for a disciple/student. It was remarkable for Jesus to allow this, given that women were not supposed to be taught.
Jesus also allowed women to accompany him (Luke 8:1-3) thus again breaking down significant barriers – it was scandalous
for women to leave home and travel with a rabbi.
By his example, Jesus was clear in his intention to break down barriers and do everything in his power to ensure ALL people had an opportunity to be included. This was radical inclusion that ended up being one of the real and underlying reasons for his crucifixion.
May I provide four suggestions as to the ways we might work to break down the barriers that hold us back:
Read and Listen – We are able to capture a glimpse of the lives of other people by reading and listening to interviews and podcasts. We can appreciate what it might be like in the shoes of people from other cultures, people with disabilities and people suffering illness and mental health issues.
Travel – The opportunity to travel to different lands and experience how people live in a variety of cultures is invaluable. Our College trips to Indulkana, Europe, the Philippines and Japan seek to provide students with these insights.
Volunteer – By serving others, we expose ourselves to a diverse range of situations and people who we would not normally experience.
Be Intentional – Seek to be aware of our thoughts, the words we use and our actions that create barriers for others – no matter how trivial they may seem to be.
I pray that each of us seeks to emulate Christ and works hard to break down the barriers that hold people back. In doing this we can go at least some of the way to ensuring that those around us have the opportunity and the choice to join in.