**On the heels of Joseph’s excellent post, I wanted to submit an “addendum” if you will, about the issue of modern day misrepresentations (thanks for the inspiration, Joe!)**
I’m an avid sports fan. I enjoy watching athletes display their God-given talents. I love seeing their drive and motivation manifested in amazing highlight reel material—their work ethic cannot be matched. For me, this is the best time of the year. Aside from the MLB playoffs, NFL games, and NCAA football, I’m counting down the days until opening night of the NBA season (which is on Tuesday, in case you’re wondering). If you followed the NBA off-season as closely as I did, you’d most likely agree with me when I say that this was an abnormally active summer. If I had to characterize it, I’d say the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. The Cleveland Cavaliers acquired Shaq to team up with LeBron James, the Lakers picked up Ron Artest, Orlando traded for the uber-athletic Vince Carter, and the volatile yet consistent Rasheed Wallace moved to an already loaded Celtics squad in Boston. Needless to say, the bottom-feeders remained just that, bottom-feeders: there was hardly any positive movement on their part. There’s no help for the bad NBA teams, they are bound to stay at the bottom of the totem pole this year, hoping to get the chance to draft a good college player for next season.
The uneasy divide between the fortunate and unfortunate isn’t only limited to basketball, though. Especially now, our society is facing an era of undeniable social stratification. Just as in the NBA, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer all around the world. Low-income, middle-class Americans are facing the highest unemployment rate since the 1920’s and there doesn’t seem to be any relief in sight. Unemployment has exceeded the September 2009 low of 9.8% and car sales are tumbling down in the wake of the expired “cash for clunkers” initiative. At the same time, CEOs are still flying in their private jets, eating at expensive restaurants, and neglecting the news as much as they can. The renowned magazine, “The Economist” recently reported that large bank conglomerates are reaping the benefits of government “bailouts” and issuing bonuses while mid-sized firms are being overexposed to risky assets, leaving them in dire circumstances. There seems to be no end in sight and many economists wonder whether the gap between the rich and the poor will ever be filled.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this pattern of stratification is not how it’s supposed to be, not in the NBA nor in the working world. Yet it’s simply natural for the rich to cling to other wealthy people and the poor to commune with others like themselves. Sympathy flows unhindered in communities made up of the same people; comfort is just around the corner when you can share your happiness or loss with someone who understands your situation firsthand. It’s just easier for us to latch on to what we know, rather than make the effort to break into another social class. My fear, however, is that this pattern of stratification is slowly seeping into the church.
For those who know and love our Savior, Jesus Christ, we are the rich. We are rich in salvation, rich in knowing the Creator, rich in love. Our belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came to die on the cross for our wretched sins surpasses any temporal wealth that this world can throw at us, it exceeds all the treasures this life can offer. No car, house, or NBA-sized salary can overshadow the blessing of the cross and Christ crucified. God’s mercy on our souls was something we didn’t have to earn, it was and is the greatest gift in human history. That being said, we are the richest.
And yet, we find comfort among the rich. We cling to other Christians and ostracize non-believers. We befriend healthy believers and neglect those who need guidance. We stick to hanging out with people “we get along with” and fear the awkwardness of spending time with others who don’t share common interests. All too often, we are content in being around “brothers and sisters in Christ” because it’s encouraging and comfortable. Everyone wants to disciple the well-groomed, mature kid, but no one wants to spend time with the ones with the most problems. But are we being selfish for not wanting to struggle with someone who doesn’t accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior? At what expense are we salvaging our own comfort? Did the Lord call us to lives sheltered by the Christian community and Christian friends?
If we are truly trying to be “Christ-like,” we have to reexamine our attitudes toward the less fortunate people in this world. We must look to and understand what Jesus’ ministry was all about and be able to exemplify the same in our own lives. Remember? Jesus called and dined with Zacchaeus, a lowly tax collector (Luke 19). He healed an outcast’s withered hand (Mark 3), and he dined with sinners at the house of Levi, another tax collector (Luke 5:29). As if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but to save sinners.” Jesus called us to a life of righteousness, yes, but he was immensely compassionate to the weak and faint-hearted. In being a disciple of Jesus Christ, we must strive to be compassionate towards people who do not know Christ as well. Don’t get me wrong: I know and acknowledge that there are many churches and groups out there who are amazing examples of compassion for the lost. But for everyone else, we can’t be complacent just because those groups are out there; we can’t let them take all the joy of reaching out to the needy, right?
As Christians, we can all think of a person or people who felt compassion for us and decided to share the gospel or Godly advice with us; they were rich, but they chose to humble themselves and help those who needed help the most—the poor. Knowing this, it’s easier to be humble when we meet a person in need at church or when we’re trying to share the gospel with a friend. As the richest people in the world, we need to begin to close the gap between the rich and the poor, and share the gift of salvation with those who need it. Don’t misunderstand Jesus’ ministry as catering to Christians exclusively because that’s not what he came to do. Jesus came to save the sick, the sinners like you and me.
Sorry about the really long post. I’ll try to do better next time. And for those of you who don’t follow professional basketball, I’m sorry, I’ll try not to use sports analogies again (though it’ll be hard).
Site: “The Economist” http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/displayStory.cfm?story_id=14710776