I received a communication by email declaring, authoritatively, that “Jesus is with the 99%.”
But I have my doubts. And for all sorts of reasons.
To be a theological stickler – and I’ll get that part off my chest first! – I take issue with the claim that Jesus can be present with us now absent his identity as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed.
A standalone Jesus as only a historical figure just doesn’t have the capacity to be present.
But even if the claim is that Jesus Christ stands with the 99 percent, I still have problems.
I’m not, I assure you, in the 1 percent, but I’m a long way from being with the poor, the hungry, the mourning and the persecuted whom, Jesus said, would be blessed when the reign of God is fully realized.
Nor am I with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned who represent him to us while we await that divine reign.
To claim that most of us are, in reality and practice, in solidarity with those folks who are in genuine need is, let’s admit, beyond exaggeration.
It is, in fact, a huge misrepresentation of our own situation.
Moreover, it puts us at risk of being identified with what I see as the central message of those who claim to be representing the non-1 percent – that is, demanding for ourselves a larger part of the economic pie, over against what Jesus taught about our giving up however much we have to those who are most desperately in need, even if what we have isn’t in the same league as those in the 1 percent.
And then I come back to that strange parable of Jesus about the one and the 99. In this narrative the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep to fend for themselves and seeks out the one who is lost, rescues that one, and brings that one back to the fold.
Could it possibly be that it is the very wealthy in our world who need salvation the most?
If that’s the case, the contemporary followers of Jesus Christ would have a mission quite distinct from the “occupiers” of Wall Street or wherever: that as his disciples we are called to save the 1 percent from their eternal damnation.
And here’s the hard part: not just the 1 percent but all who think their salvation is established by accumulating as much of the wealth as they can manage to get.
That probably means, for many of us, we need to be witnesses about the gospel to ourselves.
I confess I continually need to receive that testimony from the Scriptures as I so regularly succumb to the standards of life in an economy based on competition, accumulation and, yes, greed.
The email I received promised me a free sticker with just a “click here.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for forcefully addressing the issue of income and wealth inequality in our political democracy, but for now I’m going to take a pass on claiming some sort of righteousness in being with Jesus and the 99 percent.
I need to “click here” on a much different kind of sticker.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.