I work in finance. In case you haven’t noticed, most financial institutions have a highly vested interest in buddying up to people who either have lots of money or are looking to borrow lots of money. Although, as employees, we are taught over and over not to treat any customers differently than others, there is a tendency to prefer those who will bring in lots of revenue.
A couple of weeks ago I was confronted with the truth about how I was prioritizing people in my mind. I was thinking about how, when people with little money came into my office, my tendency was to immediately think, “Okay, this won’t help me. Just take care of what they need and get them on their way so I don’t miss out on the next big customer.” That’s when it hit me – I was prioritizing people with money ahead of those without. In fact, I was constantly thinking about how to build a better relationship with those who have money, but didn’t really think any more about those without money after they left my office. Suddenly, I was faced with the truth that my opinions and thoughts about people were 100% contrary to how God’s Kingdom works. In fact, they were the exact opposite of the truth of the Gospel.
“Suddenly, I was faced with the truth that my opinions and thoughts about people were 100% contrary to how God’s Kingdom work.”
You see, when we look at the Gospel that Jesus preached, one theme is the call for those with money and power to give it away to those who have little money and no power. Throughout God’s word (the Bible), the poor are treated with the utmost regard, and the rich (or even “middle class”) are told to take care of them. The people who had all the power in Jesus’ time were the scribes and Pharisees – the leaders in the church. The hierarchy worked such that the people had to come to these religious leaders in the synagogue to receive blessings. Jesus comes along and turns this entire idea on its head. Instead of sitting in the synagogue and telling the people to come to him – to come to the center of money and power – he goes outside the synagogue and takes his Gospel and good news out to the masses. He takes the power to the people and calls those with money to give it away.
A couple examples of this from scripture come from Luke’s account of Jesus’ life in Luke 12 and from Mark’s account in Mark 10. In Luke 12, Jesus tells us not to worry about our life, specifically about where we’re going to get food and clothes – the basic necessities of life. Instead, he calls us to focus on God’s Kingdom and trust God to take care of all of our necessities. He immediately follows this up with, “Sell your possessions and give to the needy” so that what you treasure will be the things of heaven. Instead of being caught up in acquiring as much wealth as possible, Jesus calls us to give away our possessions and focus on his Kingdom. In Mark 10, Jesus tells his disciples that the powerful in our world usually lord it over those under them. But he tells them that is not how they are to operate. Instead, he says that whoever wants to be great must become the servant of others. Those who are considered powerful in the Kingdom of God are not the ones with power but the ones with the humility to serve others as Jesus does.
“Whoever wants to be great must become the servant of others.”
This isn’t to say that Jesus doesn’t bring Good News to those who have money and power. One of the most well-known Jesus stories is his interaction with a short, rich tax-collector who climbs a tree to be able to watch Jesus as he passes through a crowd. Jesus goes to his house and shows him such compassion (a greedy, swindling tax-collector didn’t exactly have many friends) that he immediately goes out and begins to give back four times the money he has cheated people out of. The Good News for Zaccheus is that he is able to change his ways through the power of Jesus working in him.
But, for the most part, the Gospel is geared toward the masses: those who can never quite get ahead; those who have always been told they aren’t going to make it. The Kingdom of God flips the ways of our world on their head. To become powerful, I must give away power. To become rich, I must give away wealth. In the Kingdom of God, I gain power by humbling myself and gaining Christ’s power at work in me; I become rich by giving up wealth to gain treasures in heaven. Having earthly wealth and being in a position of power is not necessarily antithetical to the Gospel, but if my mind is focused on collecting money and power, I will never be fully devoted to the Kingdom of God. I will be focused on serving only those from whom I have something to gain. And that is exactly the opposite of what Jesus did.
Which brings me back to my finance story. My mind was so focused on those who could help me gain money and power that I was borderline disregarding those God holds with the most regard: the poor and powerless. It was right around that time I remembered a song by All Sons and Daughters entitled All the Poor and Powerless (click to listen). This song has become a recalibrating anthem for me, reminding me that God does not prioritize people the way I am tempted to. In fact, God doesn’t prioritize people at all. He lifts up the poor and powerless because they need an advocate to empower them. He loves those with wealth and power enough to call us to give it away so we can recognize the real source of riches and strength.
My prayer today is that I (we) will continue to focus on the things Jesus does; that I will not be sucked into the ways of this world, looking out for my own interests and how I can advance myself but, rather, for the interests of others and how I can bring Jesus into every situation to empower others and show them his love.
So what about you? Do you struggle with ranking people according to what they have to offer, according to wealth or power or another variable? How can you take a step back from your system of categorizing in order to eliminate the categories and view people as Jesus does?