Jesus didn’t come for a bunch of suburbanite, yuppie, right wing, judgmental [people]. Jesus came for the disenfranchised, people who lived by faith because that was all that they had.
–Dude I overheard in a coffee shop talking postmodernism, Donald Miller, and Christianity
So who did Jesus come for, anyway?
Once a week I spend a significant amount of time in a coffee shop. My visit (during which I enjoy an Americano and a blueberry muffin) precedes a weekly meeting I have with a friend of mine who is a college student. During my time in public space I overhear a conversation or two, and every once and while the content is fascinating. I’m sure you have had this experience.
Today I overheard a patron discussing Jesus with the espresso jockey behind the bar, with the conversation inspired due to a book carried by the customer–Donald Miller’s Searching for God Knows What (which I’ve read, and thought quite good). The coffee shop I’m currently at is seated in the midst of a suburb of Kansas City. There is considerable financial wealth in the area, a number of growing (and very large) churches, the population is predominantly white, and there is no lack of amenities. While I know that this area is not devoid of tragedy and heartbreak (I used to live in an apartment complex nearby and came to know a few of my neighbors), the people who live here have it pretty good.
The quote listed above is significant in light of this data, for the persons being cast down by the customer I overheard were essentially those all around the establishment receiving my patronage today. The gentleman who uttered this quote was anglo, dressed rather hip, and seemed to have the financial means to be doing pretty well. He was paying an above average price for an espresso beverage, anyway. While he was discussing those who Jesus clearly came for, I reflected on my own theology and wondered if my own inclinations toward the poor have resulted in a snobbery toward those who are rich.
There is no doubt that many of the empires some churches have established in suburbia are collecting the tithe to support a staff, maintain a facility, and upgrade fancy programs for existing church ministries. It is not true of all churches, however. It is also true that some church members are so consumed with keeping up with the Joneses in their neighborhoods that they neglect the poor. But it is not true of all church members who have affluence. It is very difficult to speak generally about “suburbanite, yuppie, right wing, judgmental” Christian people, for we are talking about people after all–people who are diverse, possess varying degrees of seriousness regarding their own Christian maturity, and who have received varying degrees of attentive, helpful discipling over the course of their life as followers of Jesus. Besides, even if many of these people in an affluent area of suburban Kansas City fall short of many Christian ideals (and they do), did Jesus not come for these people as well?
Even the rich, yuppie, suburbanite can be redeemed. And even the rich, yuppie suburbanite can do great things for the Kingdom if they become generous, compassionate, and mindful of those who are poor.
I think the biblical and historical data, when taken comprehensively, show that Jesus came for both the rich and the poor, men and women, slave and free, Jews and Gentiles, Republicans and Democrats, Chiefs and Raiders fans. In fact, I can’t find a people group for whom Jesus did not come. The God Christians worship is a God who possesses deep concern for the poorest of his children, yes, but in order to address their suffering, frustrations, and hardship, the gospel enlists those who are rich for God’s righteous mission. John Wesley was right to express concern for those in his movement who began to amass wealth–those who submitted themselves to the rule of a holy community began to become regarded as hard working, honest, diligent, and trustworthy, and economically they prospered. Wesley felt that wealth endangered the soul, but nevertheless recognized the opportunity to parlay that wealth into blessing. Thus the dictum commonly attributed to Wesley, “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as ever you can.”
I’ll close with two stories. A friend of mine in her twenties has devoted the last several years to serving the poor in one of the major urban centers of America. She has discipled other young people to care for and remember the poor, and invested in a number of church groups in hope of instilling virtue in a generation of Christians currently being trained to live the holy life that includes a heart for justice. Along the way she has gathered innumerable stories of hope, love, and joy while working among the poor. She has seen God present while living alongside the poor.
Another friend of mine has spent the last several years working among the rich, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. She has worked to move individuals toward generosity, service with and to the poor, and an increasing life of simplicity. She has heard many stories of people who have given up on accumulating more stuff, have dedicated time to serve the poor, and have shared their experience of working among the least of these with friends and family members, resulting in a larger number of people who wish to join in the care of the poor. She has heard stories of God’s blessing toward those who are rich as they have joined in God’s mission, and rejoiced.
It is currently faddish to decry the rich in the name of the poor, but Jesus came to redeem us all. The rich from our greed (I consider myself quite rich since I have a house, car, and little want). And the poor from the tyranny of wondering where the next meal will come from, where money for the heating bill will materialize from, and if their children will ever grow to be happy. Our concern should be for all. Our lives should give witness to the truth. Our hope should be in Christ. And our hands should be about his work.
God save us all.