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Jesus: Lumper or Splitter?

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Jesus the Ultimate Lumper

The idea of unity and division is a consistent one throughout Scripture.  The notion is a consistent one throughout human history in general.  One looks at the world as a unified thing or one tends to look at the world as more divided up.  It reminds one of the adage that there are two kinds of people in the world, those that divide up the world into two kinds of people and those that don’t.

There is really no way to avoid dividing up of the world in some fashion.  Certainly science must do this by categorizing species and such.  History offers little by way of explanation without classifying people and events using some criteria or other.  Even Jesus (as a human, I would argue) engages in some dividing if only by classifying those that follow Him from those that do not. 

So, there is a broad tendency to either lump things together or split them apart.  Lumping and splitting is a framework that crosses over a multitude of disciplines, theology included.  So, the question arises, which is Jesus.  Is He a “lumper” or a “splitter”.  While acknowledging the benefits of both approaches for a variety of earthly, human endeavors, we should clearly lean the way our Lord does.  After all, He is the one we are following.

Jesus is, I think, clearly a unifier or a “lumper”.  As I said, while Jesus does broadly divide people into categories, He leans most heavily toward a unified view of humanity and creation.  Jesus does this by offering one key category for all God’s children.  Jesus lumps everyone into the loved category.  There can be no more consistent theme in all of Scripture than this.  God loves everyone, always!  As an outgrowth of this, God grants forgiveness to anyone who seeks it and is penitent.  There is for God just His children and every one of them is loved.  There is for God and therefore for Jesus just one really big category-the beloved.

Yes, But…

It seems all well and good to call Jesus a lumper and a unifier, but is this really the case?  Clearly if it is not, then we, as the old tv saying goes “have some splaining to do”.  If Jesus is not really a unifier or lumper, then that seemingly gets us off the hook for doing things that make us deeply uncomfortable. 

Many will point to Luke 12:51 where Jesus promises to divide, not unite.  I commented on this text recently.  Yes, Jesus does say that He will bring division.  As I pointed out, Jesus does not say that He welcomes this division, only that He recognizes that this will occur.  Think about why Jesus and His message will bring about division.  The Gospel brings division or “splitting” precisely because Jesus insists on lumping all God’s children into the category of the loved.  The all too human irony here is that the insistence of Jesus upon lumping is what drives fallen wretches like us to react by splitting.

Humans instinctively recoil at the idea that everyone is loved and wanted by God.  It rankles to think that God is pursuing a relationship with all of us.  This is especially true regarding those that have fallen away and return (see the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15), or those that are latecomers to the faith and are loved just as much, as in the parable of the workers in the vineyard (see Matthew 20).  These are stories of God lumping all His children together in one massively loved group.  Is anyone surprised that this gets many people to pushback by splitting?

The phenomenon of splitting and dividing is a product of a fallen humanity and is not a part of the Gospel.  Yes, Jesus is not naïve.  He understands what humanity will do in response to the radical message that He teaches us.  This does not mean that He is the cause of this division, only that He understands us well.  All that we experience as humans is known to Jesus by virtue of His humanity.  It is just that Jesus is fully human and shows us the way we are supposed to live-by lumping and uniting.

The takeaway here is that we are all to lump people together as much as we humanly can.  This is not a call to disregard the unique nature of each individual child of God.  It simply means that we must strive to recognize that everyone is a child of God, as loved by God as much as He loves ourselves.  Treat everyone this way-lumped together by God’s love and you will be a profoundly effective witness to the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.

I would caution that in pursuit of this worthy goal of lumping all humanity into God’s love and grace, we should not overly concern ourselves with doctrinal differences.  It is not critical whether there are 2 sacraments or 7.  It is not important whether you are baptized as an infant or an adult.  Picayune questions of dogma should properly fall into the category of those things that make us joyfully diverse.  They are important, not essential.  Our faith in Jesus as God’s risen Son and how we follow Him (lumping away) is what is crucial.

Even lump together into this beloved group those who insist on dividing, just don’t join them in that division  Respond to division with the unity of universal love and forgiveness.  We know that we will not reach everyone, that is the nature of people-some simply will not accept the radical gift they have been given.  We pray for them, love them and offer them a message of complete unity.  If they turn away, we place their ultimate fate in the hands of God.  For us the formula is simple.  Jesus was a lumper, be like Jesus.   So lump everyone together in the love and grace of God.

Praise Be to God

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