On NPR a few weeks ago, I happened upon an interesting interview with the director and the star of a new South African film called, "White Wedding." In the film a groom named Elvis travels across South Africa with his best man who along the way cross paths with a British tourist who has come to the country to forget her own broken engagement. According to the director Jan Turner, the hope of the film was to portray ordinary South Africans going about their ordinary lives. The film deals with racism, but also the cultural divide between races - as when the bride's mother wants a traditional wedding whereas the bride has something completely modern in mind. The NPR interviewer noted that most of the film is in subtitles. Lead actor Kenneth Nkosi pointed out that South Africa has 11 official languages.
What I found provocative is a statement by the director to this issue of language: [Because of this] "South Africans use language to include and exclude each other...Translation jokes and misunderstandings are part of day to day life."
Thinking about this, I wondered how Jesus used language? Did he ever use language to exclude others - like on purpose? On one hand, his whole ministry was given to include those who were religiously, culturally, and socially excluded - from the tax collector to the prostitute, to the Gentile and the children. Certainly he must have used everyday language so that the lowly, marginalized, and uneducated had access to him and his message and could comprehend the love of the Father - as was probably the case with the Sermon on the Mount. But did he ever use language to exclude, too? I wonder about his conversation with Nicodemus (John 3) and his indirect if not veiled birth language. Then there is his apparently baffling parable about the Sower and the Seeds (Mark 4) in which Jesus says to the disciples and a few others, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables." Sadly, a lot of people went home that day "on the outside."
After some reflection, seems to me that Jesus was completely inclusive to all, hoping beyond hope to draw everyone to his Father. But he also wasn't shy about exposing people's hearts or desires - often using the tool of language - even if that resulted in some people on the outside looking in - kingdomly speaking - depending on how they chose to respond (or not).
If this is true, then I wonder if some evangelical churches have gotten this part backwards - making their "sermon language" seeker-friendly (thus appealing to the common denominator) all the while being stubbornly exclusive in their relationships (as is evident in their homogeneous congregations)? At Epic, I think, we have tried to let the "open" nature of Jesus ministry shape us, with varying degrees of success, by being inclusive in our relationships - loving anybody and everybody - though this is maddenly difficult - while at the same time remaining parabolic in our preaching (like not giving answers as much as calling people to Jesus). The result is that some people want to deal with Jesus, others don't.
In the end, who it is that stands on the inside or the outside depends not on us, but on the work of Spirit in every person's heart. Those who go home thinking they have all the answers have their reward in full. But those who seek Jesus humbly for the answers they lack are given the "secrets of the kingdom" and even better, Jesus himself - exclusively.