Inclusion is not an essentially gospel characteristic, but welcome is. Recently I came across a quote by Rowan Williams - and I can't now remember where - in which he said more or less the same thing. It set me thinking about the so-called 'Inclusive Church' and the debate - actually more like a divide over which which people shout - between those Christians who prefer to draw distinct boundaries in areas of sexuality and those who are uncomfortable to do so. I have heard it said that it is not (politically) correct to welcome people, say, to worship because by welcoming them you are immediately putting a barrier between those who are IN and those who are OUT - that is those who are IN are welcoming those who are OUT. Rather, everyone should feel included on an equal basis. The same is said in some political circles about the promotion of classical music in local music centres (but that is another hobby horse which I must let pass me by for the moment).
It seems to me that Jesus was one to welcome people, to draw people to himself, but he didn't always include them. He was demonstrating that God was creating a new people in a new kingdom and that people were welcome and called to join, but if they chose not to then they would not be forcefully included. The rich young man who came to Jesus went away sad because Jesus had not included him. He just could not get rid of what was most dear to him - his wealth. Other people came to Jesus expressing a desire to follow him, but Jesus seems not to have included them - in fact he made it more difficult for them. For those who would put comfort and family before before following Jesus, he let them go.
But the good news is that Jesus welcomed so many who were otherwise seen as outcast and despised: tax collectors who collaborated with the Roman enemy, women with a dodgy moral past, those with diseases that made them ritually unclean amongst good religious people. These he welcomed.
This presents me with a constant challenge to know the difference between welcome and inclusion, and the difference between legitimate boundaries and hostile barriers. Also, to recognize the difference between my personal prejudice and gospel truth.
Whatever the answer I think it has to be slightly fuzzy. Could Jesus have made a mistake in welcoming the wrong person among the Twelve - Judas Iscariot? With hindsight we can say it had to be so in order for him to be betrayed, but I wonder if that is what Jesus really thought when he called Judas.
I know that if God, through his Son Jesus, had not welcomed me into his kingdom I would not be included, and I am constantly grateful for that welcome. I hope that I, together with the whole church, can extend the same welcome to the 95%, or more, of the population for whom there is an invitation but who have not yet responded to God's gracious call.