Something about the title of this article probably interests you. The word “outcast” may have caught your attention, but probably not in a positive way. It’s the kind of interest you have when you drive by the scene of a horrific car accident. You pretend you do not want to view the details, but inside you long to see every bit of the horror. What do you think of when you read the word “outcast”? Do you envision the person in your neighborhood that looks different from you? Do you picture the woman on the busy intersection median boldly soliciting money? Or, maybe you see the wheelchair-bound visitor sitting in the aisle at church on Sunday morning. People that look different and act different are inconsistent with everything happening around them. We perceive a contrast that is uncomfortable. If you are like me, we can solve this unnerving problem by labeling these people as outcasts. They are “over there” in society. Sure, I may feel moved to help them, and I even may feel sorry for them, but I differentiate myself. Discarded by society, they have been placed in a category labeled “less than”.
We Are the Outcast
Merriam-Webster defines an outcast as one that is refused acceptance. By this definition alone, we are all outcasts. Think of a situation in your life where you have been unaccepted. Maybe it started on the playground in school. It could be a party invitation you never received. How about the college you failed to get into, the job you so desperately wanted or the promotion you never got? The list goes on. Suffice it to say, we have all been refused acceptance at one time or another. You are the outcast. I am the outcast. There are times in our lives when we are more painfully aware of this lack of acceptance. I attended a conference recently and while I made new friends and people were genuinely warm and inviting, I had a deep sense of being an outcast. It was not that I was refused entrance. I was there, participating, learning and worshiping. But, from deep within, I felt that somehow I did not measure up. I looked around and quickly concluded that I didn’t have what I needed to be a part of this group. I determined that my lack of training and education labeled me an outcast. Regret and shame became my close companions. I can relate to these haunting lyrics by the French-Canadian rock band Simple Plan from their song “Welcome to My Life”: “Do you ever feel like breaking down? Do you ever feel out of place? Like somehow you just don’t belong?”
Welcome To the Club
The Bible is full of outcasts. Actually, aside from God, everyone in the Bible is an outcast. From the moment Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, outcast has been our name. After Cain murdered his brother Abel, he became an outcast. God said to him, “From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth” (Genesis 4:12). Noah was an outcast – shunned by everyone around him. Abraham became an outcast when God told him to leave his country and family to go to a land unknown. It does not end there – the Bible continues to tell the story of one outcast after another. We might be tempted to think that in the New Testament things are different. However, beginning with the birth of Jesus we see his outcast parents. Mary was unwed and pregnant and looked down upon in her community. Together with Joseph, they traveled to Bethlehem for the annual Roman census. Approaching evening, they could find no room in an inn so they took refuge in a stable. Outside the city, all alone and in a cold dark stable Jesus was born.
The Gospel is for Outcasts
The good news of the gospel comforts us because the mission of Jesus from beginning to end was, and is, to rescue outcasts. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus consistently acted to include the very people that had been left out. Jesus rescued women, children, foreigners, sinners, the “unclean”, outcasts, the sick and even outlaws and murderers (the thief on the cross) at a time when the basic thrust of religion was to divide people into “insiders” and “outsiders,” the clean and the unclean. Nothing has changed today. Jesus still rescues the outcast – you and me. His plan all along was to rescue lost people who had become the outcasts of society.
The Outcast One
Jesus left his throne in heaven; he left his “insider” position and descended into a world of the unclean and the outcast. Jesus chose to become an outcast. He did not do it by descending in splendor and glory with pageantry and trumpets. He did it by entering into the grittiness of our lives. As he walked this earth, Jesus was seen as an outcast among the religious elite and he was an outcast among those he came to save; “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him (John 1:11). The religious and the non-religious despised and rejected him. Even at his crucifixion they took him outside of the city: “So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates” (Hebrews 13:12).
This Outcast is the Savior of the world, the One who was despised came to rescue broken humanity. He came to restore our outcast lives and to bring us in, making us outcasts no more. He is Jesus Christ the Lord, our crucified, risen, reigning and coming back again Savior. The good news of the gospel speaks acceptance, welcome and love. If you are in Christ, God has gathered you into his kingdom of glory and grace never to be an outcast again.
Lori is Director of Care Ministries and Women’s Support at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. She blogs regularly at: lorileighharding.blogspot.com.