For those who are passionate about serving the poor, it can be easy to hate on the rich. By that I mean it can become easy to build a Christology and a theology that says if Jesus were here on earth today, He would be hanging out at Greensboro Urban Ministry, living under bridges, visiting people in jail, and that’s all He would be doing. You can hear this sentiment when people who are passionate about the poor explain their passion by saying things like, “I just think that if Jesus were here, He wouldn’t be in “X” wealthy neighborhood; He would be hanging out with the poor.”
Ben Folds, in an explanation of his song “Jesusland” says, “If Jesus were around now, He wouldn’t have much stuff and that’s a problem in today’s amusement park version of Jesusland. You can’t walk around with no stuff or you’re homeless. So He’d be walking around homeless or on the street with long hair, and I don’t think that the people who make lots of money off His name would do much to help Him.”
True, Folds is offering a bit of prophetic truth for the Church to pay attention to. But sentiments like these are not a Scripturally-accurate picture of the fullness of Christ’s heart, because Jesus loves all people, regardless of what they have or don’t have. Part of Christ’s appeal in the eyes of the poor is that even though they may be overlooked by many in society, Jesus accepts them just as they are. But the same acceptance is true of the rich, as Christ’s love is not withheld from anyone. His life, death, and resurrection were on behalf of the whole world.
Now, I strongly believe that most Christians in the West (myself included) have way too much stuff, are way to focused on money, and are even likely to read the Bible through a lens that shows the Lord as a God who wants them to be comfortable and prosperous. I believe that the Biblical standard of giving is not 10% but instead is generosity (which would most likely lead us to give more than 10%), and part of being conformed to Christ is learning to live more simply and more open-handedly with all that we have been given. As we understand more deeply who Christ is and what He has given us, our loving response is to surrender all to His hands, whether it’s money or time or relationships.
But shaming the rich into doing this by saying that Jesus would rather hang out with the poor than them is not the way to go. Yes, I believe that Jesus would be hanging with the poor under bridges and in the soup kitchen lines. But I also believe He would be on the golf course, in the country club, at the symphony, because He desires that none should perish but all come to repentance, and He knows that those of us who are rich have a very dangerous temptation to put our hope in money rather than in God (even if we disguise it with religious language), and He desires that we not only know Him but that we depend on Him as our life.