We all know Jesus loves the poor. What about the rich?
As long as I am materially and culturally rich, I will keep reflecting on how problematic it is. I trust this is an avenue of liberation. It’s also very earnest, and maybe that’s what makes me a good Mennonite!
My latest insight is that Jesus loves rich people like me. This insight stems from a conversation I had over lunch with a friend. As we each ordered our cheeseburgers and fries — I asked that mine have egg instead of meat, on account of being a vegetarian — I saw that he had a book sitting face-down at his elbow.
“So, what book are you reading?” I asked. He’s always reading books, which is what I like about him.
“Oh, I’m back to reading Henri Nouwen,” he said, and flipped over the cover of his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son . Then he added something like, “I need to read more Jesus-loves-me stuff. I can only handle so much of the God-is-mad-at-you-and-your-lifestyle stuff.”
As we chatted, I discovered I have the opposite feeling. As I read the story of Jesus, I see him frequently reaching out to those in power, welcoming them to the abundance of life at the margins of society. Indeed, I feel Jesus loves me and has compassion upon me and my rich friends.
Three examples come to mind:
A Roman centurion, who commands 100 soldiers, hears about the healer who moves among the peasants, and sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his ailing slave (Luke 7). Jesus heals the slave and praises the centurion for his humility, generosity and faith. See? Here’s a case where the powerful one comes to Jesus for mercy and is not disappointed.
Levi is sitting at a tax booth when Jesus invites Levi to follow him. That night, they “recline” together with many other tax collectors and “sinners” (Mark 2). In this story, I identify more with the tax collectors, who benefited from socially legitimate fraud, than with the crowds of exploited peasants outside. Jesus welcomes the tax collectors.
Finally, Zacchaeus, another tax collector, wants to see this Jesus who draws so many crowds of poor and hungry people. Again, Jesus reaches out to this man, who is relatively rich, and invites himself over for dinner.
They eat together — a social and religious taboo — and the proper response happens: Zacchaeus adopts the prophetic vision of the jubilee, redistributes his wealth and redresses those whom he has defrauded (Luke 19).
I find what Zacchaeus did rather daunting. I want to know what happened in his encounter with Jesus that enabled him to let go of his wealth. In Jesus, did he find mercy and love? I suspect he did. Did he discover an alternative, prophetic vision of common humanity, social justice and all-around beauty? Likely, at least in my mind.
In the story of Jesus, as he mingles with those who are medium-rich, I discover a welcoming love and alternative vision. This love and new way of seeing cuts through the prevailing consumer-capitalist perspective and opens up new beauty in voluntary poverty and solidarity with the masses.
I trust this is an avenue of liberation.
Aiden Enns is publisher of Geez magazine and is a member of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.