I’m a pastor.
So I’m working my way through Luke’s gospel (I think it was) one year, and I realize, “Man, if I take these stories as they come, I’m preaching about Jesus and poor people week after week.”
This was a worrisome change from priorities I’d always followed. Yet, in another way, it wasn’t: I’d been taught to value speaking with integrity. In recent years, especially, I’d wanted to be clearer in my own mind that what I was teaching was reflective of what seemed to matter most to Jesus. For it wasn’t hard to see in history that religious dogmatism had trumped Jesus’ example time and again, and with sometimes horrible results.
I decided to walk through the Jesus stories and talk about what he talked about. And if I did it with integrity, what he talked about most would be what I talked about most.
I ended up at this nexus of Jesus and poor people. In fact, stunned by it, I asked my church one Sunday morning to tally up how many times it happened in Luke’s core chapters, 4-21. How many times would Jesus be caring for someone in poverty (widows) or isolation (lepers) or someone considered by the culture of the day to be of low prestige (women, children, foreigners), or hated (Samaritans and tax extortioners) or thought to be under God’s judgment (adulterers and people in disasters)?
And how many times would he tenderly make such people the heroes of the stories he invented, scandalizing his audiences? Telling of the “good” Samaritan would be like using a black man as a role model to Ku Klux Klan members during the Jim Crow South, or a Native American as an example of virtue in a 19th-century U.S. Cavalry outpost—or an immigrant without papers as an example of familial love before a modern anti-immigration convention.
Between the two, we counted 27 events in 14 chapters! “If we wrote the history of our church in 14 chapters, would there be two stories of our caring for disenfranchised people in every chapter?” Hardly. And if I were to represent the teachings of Jesus with integrity . . . well, you see the point.
It’s been a few years now. The impression has been confirmed again and again. “In as much as you do it to the least of these,” Jesus would say, “You do it unto me.”
If I take Jesus’ example – the least, first – and look at relationships, politics, foreign policy, race, economics, gender, culture . . . where do I end up, week after week?