I remember a conversation with a passionate young woman years ago. Considering becoming a part of our church’s ministry, she had questions for me.
“What exactly is your ministry doing to help victims of sex trafficking?”
I was honest, “At this point, very little.”
“How can you say you love Jesus, and what he taught, if you aren’t doing everything you can to stop sex trafficking?”
I’ve used this story as an example of how we are each called with different passions and gifts; that when we operate and encourage one another in how God uniquely designed our hearts to catch flame, we bring about expansive change. When we judge other’s callings against how God has uniquely engaged us, we dilute the potential of the body of Christ. Insisting everyone be a hand makes for difficulty walking, seeing, breathing … there is a reason we are passionate about different things. It doesn’t require us to be in opposition. I can support your passion while still focusing on the areas God is leading me.
But it’s the overarching sentiment that I want to look at today. The idea that Jesus focused solely on the socially outcast. (This can be a tricky subject to navigate so don’t give up reading yet.)
I read the other day, “In the first three centuries of church history the Gospel spoke primarily (though not exclusively) to those who belonged to the lower classes, not the the middle and upper classes.” Richard Rohr, “Simplicity”
Is that what Jesus reflects?
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
But is this passage referencing the full scope of Jesus’ ministry?
The other day I was asked, “How do you think Jesus would respond to…” It was regarding a change in a tradition at a local school. I think my response was supposed to be something along the lines of “Jesus will always take the side of the marginalized.” And as I went to say pretty much that, I thought about the who of Jesus’ interactions. I replied with, “I think Jesus would look at the side that is for the change and ask, ‘Why are you demanding this? What is the purpose, what is your aim, and does this really satisfy what you are ultimately striving for?’ Then, I think he would turn to the group that is not in support of the change and ask, ‘Why are you against this? What would really happen if you made this gesture? How would losing this tradition ultimately impact you?’”
When I’m reading or listening to a Christian material, I often feel this judgement (realizing it could also be conviction) that I am not doing enough, fighting hard enough, or sacrificing enough, and because of that, Jesus is disappointed in me. I took time to sort through those feelings and compare them to what I found in the gospels – the best biographies of Jesus’ life we have collected.
DISCLAIMER: It is not easy to compare modern day economic or cultural norms with society of over 2000 years ago. Also, as I write, I’m considering the disciples as middle class. Jesus teaches/engages with them most of all, closely followed by “the crowd,” which would have a mix across the class systems of His day.
Across the four canonical gospels, excluding the infancy narratives and eliminating parallel passages, we have over 115 moments of interactions between Jesus and others. 2% of those interactions are with supernatural beings, 23% are with authorities over him (both political and religious), 61% are with the middle class of His time, and 14% are with what would have been considered the outcast/marginalized of that time.
Jesus was ABSOLUTELY about the poor, outcast, forgotten, and oppressed. And commands all those with resources to care for those without. But I equally believe that Jesus cared for religious leaders, the wealthy, authorities, and the middle class. Jesus was about life transformation through a relationship with the Father, He wanted everyone to have access to that potential. Think about how much time he spent in the temple or dining with leaders. He wanted EVERYONE to develop a deeper understanding of His Father’s love. Often, those “with more” struggle to rest in that love, and to receive that level of acceptance, that’s why the “have mores” of Jesus’ time pushed against him so often, and the “have nots” found an ease and release in accepting the message of Christ. Jesus’ message between the various socioeconomic groups of his time varied, but I worry that we miss the point. He had a message for both groups; the core of that message didn’t change.
Jesus sees people clearly. He sees their brokenness alongside the broken system that sustains their levels/positions. His contemporaries wanted a rebellion, they expected Jesus to drop the hammer and establish His rule. Some are still looking for that kind of Jesus. But He doesn’t do that. He offers His life for the oppressed AND the oppressors. He realizes both need His healing presence. When we take a stance against certain systems, as we should, using our voice, and calling attention to suffering and injustice, we do not have to do so at the expense of regarding one another as children of God. Jesus set that example.