“Too spiritual. So heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good” – a few years ago, I would have been proud to be described like this. YES, I’m all about eternity. I’m but a stranger here, life is a desert drear, heaven is my home. The only thing that mattered about other people was the spiritual: have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Do you know where you’ll go when you die?
Like a good Evangelical, I supported missions that preached the Gospel, but not really those that “only” tended to people’s physical needs. I mean, the Bible was clear on this point: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food and clothes] will be added unto you” (Matt.6:33). That’s what Jesus said, so that settles it.
I sometimes gave to some charities that “just” fed people, but I prioritized those that “fed the bread of life.” Because once you are in the kingdom and pursuing righteousness, “all those other things” will be added unto you. This is how, I rationalized, I was actually )albeit indirectly) feeding and clothing people.
The story of how my conservative Christian community (what I call the CCC) rejected me – and I rejected it – I’ve told elsewhere.
The bottom line is that I began to really see people around me, for the first time, as people, not just a mission field. I stopped seeing just two categories: the saved and the need-to-be-saved, the Christian and the universal heathen, the finished product and the next project.
Now I’m going to preach.
Every person has value – infinite value – right now, as he or she is in this moment, regardless of their past and regardless of their future. No one should be told, “I know you’re hungry and cold, but are you saved? What you really need now isn’t food and shelter. What you really need is Jesus.”
I know that runs counter to Evangelical logic. But we have to think for ourselves. We shouldn’t assume that, just because our teachers have meant well, they were giving us God’s best. Never forget that Christian teachers rationalized the Inquisition, the Crusades, slavery, and Jim Crow. Never forget that Christian leaders opposed civil rights.
So, while Evangelicalism tells us that everyone should “seek first the kingdom…and all these things will be added unto you,” it does so to the exclusion of other passages (i.e. Matt. 6:33 isn’t the only verse on the subject.) Think for yourself:
- Jesus fed 5,000 people with actual food, without first demanding conversion (actually, according to Matt. 14, he “had compassion on them and healed their sick” and then told the disciples, “you give them something to eat”).
- Jesus advocated for the woman caught in adultery without first demanding repentance (John 8).
- Jesus said very specifically (Matt. 25) that those who care for the needy will be rewarded – the physically needy, not the spiritually needy. (Evangelical thinking – including by people who don’t identify as Evangelical – reinterprets this parable to refer to spiritual needs because of Matt. 6:33. Really there is no indication that Jesus was talking about spiritual needs here.)
- When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), his message was: I want you to care for the needy, not be a religious snob who avoids the needy. In fact, the Samaritan according to this, would “inherit eternal life”!
In no way do Jesus’ life and preaching indicate that we should tend to the spiritual needs of others to the exclusion of their physical needs.
We are not exempt from caring for the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned – in fact, caring for them is our mandate if we want to receive God’s reward.
So, to my dear Evangelical and Evangelical-minded friends, be earthly-minded and heavenly minded. Leave behind that binary thinking that says, “If you haven’t asked Jesus into your heart, that’s your only real need.” Instead, think: “How would Jesus meet this person right now?”
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