One of the major differences between the Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) is how people are perceived and valued in God’s economy. In the OT, wealth was considered a direct blessing from God, so rich people were valued and held in high esteem by society solely for their wealth. In the NT, however, Jesus overturned this social precept, saying how hard it is for a rich person to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. This statement profoundly shocked his listeners at the time. Jesus also praised the poor old widow for contributing two mites to the temple offering, saying that she actually gave more than the wealthy, as she gave everything she had to live on, whereas the rich only contributed from their excess. These were revolutionary statements in Jesus’ day, and for some they still are.
As well, Jesus overturned perceptions regarding relationships and gendered roles. For Jesus, people were people, regardless of age, sex, or social standing. He was, as scripture tells us, no respecter of persons, meaning he didn’t judge based on appearance or status. Tribal loyalty also didn’t matter anymore in Jesus’ revolutionary economy. What mattered was doing what pleased God. So, as Jesus explained, even strangers can be our mother and brethren if they do God’s will. In the same way, Jesus proclaimed that women and children were just as worthy as men to hear and receive and preach the Good News, defying rigid age- and sex-based norms. Women and children were always welcomed by Jesus wherever he went. In the process, Jesus made some of his most loyal and passionate followers in women.
Another societal norm that Jesus did away with was the exclusion of social undesirables. Instead, Jesus welcomed and healed these people, and some of them then followed him. Rather than demand that lepers maintain social distancing from him, Jesus went right up to them, laid his hands on them, and healed them. Touching “untouchables” was unheard of in Jesus’ day. The same with prostitutes and sinners. Instead of demanding they keep their distance, Jesus welcomed them, healed them, and invited them to join in his ministry work.
Welcoming and healing was what Jesus did. He never charged anything for it, and he never turned anyone away, if he saw they were sincere in wanting his help. For Jesus, as exemplified throughout the New Testament, people were just people – not Jew or non-Jew, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, educated or uneducated – people were just people. The only distinction Jesus made between people was that they either wanted to do God’s will or they didn’t. That is how he saw them. He still does, and he encourages us to see people the same way.