-One of the early recollections I have of church sermons as a youth, was a message given by a pastor about the type of disciples that Jesus chose; instead of choosing men who were part of the popular crowd, Jesus literally chose young men at the bottom of Jewish society.
There were men Jesus could have chosen who were astute in the Torah, who were prayer warriors, who tithed exactly 10% every month, who were good looking, and were in the most popular social circles. Jesus wasn’t interested in those men at all.
Just as Jesus was raised in the city of Nazareth which was generally looked down on by upper-class society, he chose men to be his disciples that didn’t fit in with high class culture. His disciple Peter understood this well when he said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right acceptable to him” [Acts 10:34-36 ESV]
There is a tendency in every society for the popular people to rise to the top of the ranks, elevated by whatever the particular culture esteems the most; charisma, looks, income, talents, there are a plethora of different attributes that humans value depending on the region and culture. However, within the church, we as Christians are called to disciple in the same manner as our Lord; demonstrating no partiality toward persons.
Sadly, many people have written on the trend within American church culture that occurs in other walks of life; cliques develop based on commonalities, personalities, and other socioeconomic factors. True discipleship, transcends the superficiality of the material world, and imitates Christ by demonstrating no partiality of person.
Even more so, discipleship should actually, more often than not, reach out to the social outcasts, the misfits, the low life’s, the people that culture considers uncouth and uncool. Just as Jesus chose men from the lower ranks of society, so we should be reticent that the Holy Spirit is more often at work in the lowly places of our community than the high places.
The people who cuss are more likely to receive the gospel than the people who are never crass. This is only natural, as Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” [Mark 2:17 ESV]. When Jesus said to “go out into the whole world and make disciples of all men”, he surely had in mind the idea that we weren’t supposed to be focusing the majority of our efforts on the suburban folk who drive the nice car, have the high paying job, and look the part of “Clean Christian Christopher”. Rather, the good news has come first and foremost to the sinners; to those who are sick!
Jesus told us as much when he said,
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” [Isaiah 61:1-2, ESV]
Notice the emphasis on those who are mourning, brokenhearted, captive, and prisoners. Christ has come for the people at the bottom of the ditch, not the people living on the top of the mountain. The people on the bottom are most in need of help, friendship, food, freedom, and ultimately, redemption.
When I was a young adult, a pastor friend of mine, Dr. Siffring, called me up one evening. There was a young man in his congregation who needed a friend, and he believed I should take him under my wing. Dr. Siffring inferred that the other young people didn’t treat the young man well, because his personality didn’t mesh with the more upper-class suburban attitude of the church. I thought it was odd that I was being asked to befriend the young man, such a thing had never occurred to me before, but I did as he asked, and by bringing him into my own circle of friends and family, the young man’s life was definitely the better for it. Dr. Siffring’s love for the young man, and his intimate awareness of the young man’s personality and lifestyle, helped to bring him into a strong Christian bond with other young adults who loved God.
It is easy to hang out with popular people. There is something in many of us, that gravitates toward wanting to be with the ‘in-crowd’. It is easy to hang out with people who are good listeners, communicators, and overall interesting individuals. Jesus demonstrates this tendency within us via a parable he tells after being invited to dinner at a prominent Pharisee’s house,
“Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” [Luke 14:7-11 ESV].
True discipleship then, explicitly involves going to the bottom of the table. It means bypassing the popular people, and hanging out with the people who are looked down on by society. True discipleship means hanging out with the social misfits, the uncouth, the drunkards, the drug addicts, and the myriad of people that upper-class culture snubs their nose toward.
True discipleship does not necessarily come “natural” to us. Who among us doesn’t want to sit with the popular people at the “cool table”. Who among us wouldn’t like to be included among the president’s men. Yet, our high calling in life, is to “go out into the whole world and make disciples of all men”, which first and foremost includes the people at the very bottom rungs of society.
*Stock image Dean Rose, Unsplash.com