[I recommend that you read Parts 1 and 2 before proceeding…]
“OK, well, this isn’t going like we’d hoped,” the envoys whispered among themselves. “This may not be our guy. His agenda is definitely not the same as ours and he doesn’t seem to care at all about our American Dream. He’s so concerned about the poor that he cares nothing about our plight.” **
**[I’m certainly not insinuating that John the Baptizer had any such self-serving, nationalistic, or economic interests of his own. Jesus said he was the greatest saint and least materialistic person of his day. His struggle was not about personal prosperity, but about what he expected the Messiah to do about Rome’s control over Israel. Nevertheless, I believe that in his answer to John’s envoys Jesus used his compassionate dealing with the poor to make his point about what is actually important to God, and what his kingdom actually looks like.
Roman oppression gave Israel an opportunity to love their disadvantaged neighbors (Jewish and Gentile) and live in compassionate community with them. Those who had even a modicum of wealth had every chance to act generously toward the poorest among them. Instead, many of them protected their wealth and used their influence for their own benefit.
When they made Jesus’ miracles and message about their own socioeconomic interests, the Jews of the first century looked a lot like so many twenty-first century Christians who seem to feel entitled to their own thick slice of the American pie.]
The prophet interrupted their conference – “I heal the poor, because they need it and because you need to see it. I want you with greater health and wealth to catch my passion for the most destitute among you. I’ve been trying to show you how much God loves the “outer circle,” as it were, and inspire you to live justly among them. But I’ve noticed that instead of learning compassion from your own losses, you’ve become even more tightfisted and overprotective of what you think is yours. How is it that it’s not news when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but when the stock market loses two points, it’s front-page fodder? I want you to find ways to narrow – rather than widen – the gap between the classes. There’s enough for everyone in every place on my planet if you’ll learn to share.”
“What? He’s obviously a socialist!” one of them protested through pursed lips.
“No, I didn’t come to condone or condemn anyone’s politics or economic system, but to model a lifestyle of generosity and hospitality among neighbors. If you choose capitalism, that’s fine, but be the kind with a social conscience – compassionate capitalists.*** Be sure that whatever socioeconomic advances you make are never on the backs of the poor. Your gain should never be at the expense of others’ pain. Always take into account the global community, otherwise known as ‘neighbors’.”
***[Thankfully, there are a growing number of socially responsible business models cropping up these days whose goals are not merely about personal wealth. They put people before profit and choose to sacrifice some of their own bottom-line in order to include marginalized communities and help lift people out of poverty.]
He went on to say, “When you look for me you’ll find me in the poor. I don’t just mean among them, I mean in them, as them. When you look into their eyes you’ll see me looking back at you.
I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to say to some of you:
“I was hungry, and instead of stuffing yourself to obesity you bought me lunch. I was thirsty, and you quit buying sparkling mineral water and dug clean water wells in my community. I was a stranger, and instead of having me deported, you got to know me and realized that I left my country to make enough money to send some home to my starving family. I needed clothes, and instead of buying more shoes to add to your already full closet, you took me shopping for my first pair of new jeans. I was sick, and instead of pointing out the behaviors that led to my sickness, you took me to the doctor and paid my bill. I was in prison and you didn’t say I was getting what I deserved, but you befriended me on visiting days and helped me find a job when I got out.”
Exasperated, they asked, “So you’re not going to restore our rightful fortunes?”
“I can’t say if I will or if I won’t,” he replied, “but I can guarantee that if you’ll begin where I do – at the bottom – and join me in my mission of mercy, you’ll find a more authentic fortune than you ever imagined. Then you’ll hardly notice whether or not you’re economically prosperous. Purpose – eternal purpose – trumps prosperity any day.”
- What do you think? Does Jesus or does he not care for our American Dream?
- Have the losses of the middle class made us more compassionate for those at the bottom or are we more tightfisted as a result?
- Who are your “neighbors”?