An advantage of conceiving sin as the practice of exclusion is that it names as sin what often passes as virtue, especially in religious circles. In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, “sinners” were not simply “the wicked” who were therefore religiously bankrupt (so Sanders 1985), but also social outcasts, people who practiced despised trades, Gentiles and Samaritans, those who failed to keep the Law as interpreted by a particular sect (Dunn 1988, 276-80). A “righteous” person had to separate herself from the latter; their presence defiled because they were defiled. Jesus’ table fellowship with “tax collectors and sinners” (Mark 2:15-17), a fellowship that indisputably belonged to the central features of his ministry, offset this conception of sin. Since he who was innocent, sinless, and fully within God’s camp transgressed social boundaries that excluded the outcasts, these boundaries themselves were evil, sinful, and outside God’s will (Neyrey 1988, 79). By embracing the “outcast,” Jesus underscored the “sinfulness” of the persons and systems that cast them out.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from Jesus’ compassion toward those who transgressed social boundaries that his mission was merely to demask the mechanisms that created “sinners” by falsely ascribing sinfulness to those who were considered socially unacceptable (pace Borg 1994, 46-61). He was no prophet of “inclusion” (with Johnson 1996, 43f.), for whom the chief virtue was acceptance and the cardinal vice intolerance. Instead, he was the bringer of “grace,” who not only scandalously included “anyone” in the fellowship of “open commensality” (Crossan 1991, 261-64; Crossan 1994, 66-70), but made the “intolerant” demand of repentance and the “condescending” offer of forgiveness (Mark 1:15; 2:15-17). The mission of Jesus consisted not simply in re-naming the behavior that was falsely labeled “sinful” but also in re-making the people who have actually sinned or suffered misfortune. The double strategy of re-naming and re-making, rooted in the commitment to both the outcast and the sinner, to the victim and the perpetrator, is the proper background against which an adequate notion of sin as exclusion can emerge.
Volf, pp. 72-73