Leading Morning Prayer today, I was struck by the Gospel reading. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, the Daily Office lectionary plows through the 23rd chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew. And in that chapter, Jesus lays into the scribes and Pharisees hard. The repeated refrain is "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" with Jesus spelling out the many forms of their hypocrisy. Jesus' confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees includes a litany of blistering criticisms and withering judgments.
Here's the verse that really got my attention this morning:
"For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (v. 15, NRSV).
How utterly and completely intolerant of Jesus to call anyone - even the scribes and the Pharisees - children of hell! But there it is. (There are other examples of Jesus' intolerance, but this one is perhaps one of the most striking.)
Perhaps part of the dissonance in all of this is that Jesus' verbal assault doesn't sit well with the Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusiveness preached by so many today. From my perspective, the motive driving the Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusiveness is the laudable desire to fulfill the second part of the Great Commandment by loving our neighbor as ourselves as well as an attempt to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant promises to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and to "respect the dignity of every human being" (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 306). But perhaps, in light of today's Daily Office reading from Matthew, something is missing.
In her book Entering the Household of God: Taking Baptism Seriously in a Post-Christian Age (Church Publishing, 2002), Claudia Dickson writes: "In our time, tolerance is the ultimate virtue. And being perceived as intolerant is an unforgivable sin. Yet we have confused tolerance with love. When we love someone we take them seriously enough to speak the truth to them" (p. 43).
No doubt about it, Jesus speaks the truth to the scribes and the Pharisees by confronting their behavior, naming their hypocrisy, and taking them to task for its consequences. Jesus loves them enough to tell them the truth. And just three chapters later, one of the consequences of acting on this love is Jesus' arrest, torture, and crucifixion.
I think that passages like today's Daily Office reading from Matthew challenge a one-sided Gospel of Tolerance/Inclusion. There's more to love than mere "tolerance" or "inclusion." As Jesus shows, sometimes love takes the form of confrontation and judgment. Writing in The Road Less Traveled (Simon & Schuster, 1978), M. Scott Peck puts it well: "Whenever we confront someone we are in essence saying to that person, 'You are wrong; I am right.' ... To fail to confront when confrontation is required for the nurture of spiritual growth represents a failure to love equally as much as does thoughtless criticism or condemnation and other forms of active deprivation of caring" (pp. 150 & 153). So perhaps the Gospel in its fullness entails a paradox: both tolerance and intolerance, both inclusion and exclusion.