Jesus came preaching the gospel to the poor, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:16). But he didn’t just preach to the poor; he proved it to the poor. Jesus is not merely a man of deep conviction, he’s profoundly authentic. He walks right out into the margins of society and calls us to follow him. To take our middle-class wealth, comfort, and convenience and subordinate it to the greater needs of the marginalized. He says nothing short of “Follow me…into the margins.”
The Gospels depict Jesus spending time with the mentally ill, the disease-ridden, and in the homes of the fever-pitched. We often refuse to drop a meal off if someone is contagious. Follow me, Jesus says.
In the sprawling city of Kampala, Uganda, the city center is surrounded by undulating dirt roads that wind into the slums occupied by millions of unaccounted poor. The slum roads are lined with cardboard and cinderblock homes, bordered by open sewage ditches, where half-naked children run free, some with parents many without. It was my day to depart after long two weeks of rural and urban travel, teaching, and orphan ministry among some of the poorest people I have ever known.
My flight out was that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get home. The team was slated to go to an orphanage. I was flying out before them. When I woke up that morning, I took a warm shower, put on some fresh clothes, and began to reason why I shouldn’t really go to the orphanage with the team. I could get some shopping done, take care of some admin, and oh, when I landed in the States I had a conference to speak at! Lots of prep needed for that. I was trying to justify not walking into the margins, spending time with street kids and orphans.
Over breakfast, I read Luke 5, where I saw God–God–care so much for the marginalized that he became sweaty. Instead of avoiding the dirty, smelly, disease-ridden poor, he walked right into their living rooms, placed his holy hands on them, and loved them. Jesus’ saving message was proven in serving action. The Messiah got dirty with the dirtiest of us all. As I read, I wept. The reason I didn’t want to go to the orphanage was because I didn’t want to get dirty, sweaty before I got on that plane. I had fresh clothes on. I didn’t want to spend time with poor orphans because I didn’t want to get dirty.
Jesus is so deeply authentic, so true to his own message, that his life demands a response. His gospel is so counter-cultural, so status-reversing that it exposes the rich in their pride and compels us to love the poor in their humility. Jesus didn’t just speak a great gospel; he lived a great gospel. He brought the hope of comprehensive salvation right into the slums. He announced and accomplished the gospel, and he is calling us to follow him. He’s calling people out of their designer slums and comfortable homes into the lives of the emotionally broken, socially awkward, mentally ill, economically destitute, racially marginalized, and the eternally-separated-from-God, not only to announce salvation but to prove it with our very own lives.
But “proving” Christ is not enough. Preaching Christ is more than enough. He heals all, makes everything new.
Jesus preaches the gospel to the poor with his sweat. Will we?