‘Jesus is for losers’ – Steve Taylor
There’s a popular belief here in the comfortable West that Christianity is a nice religion for the respectable, the white middle class, the haves; ‘the Tory party at prayer’ as one memorably scathing description of the Church of England put it.
There’s also a contrasting common view (here in Britain at least) that Christianity is for socially inept sad cases, gullible sheep, unscientific idiots, hopeless losers, weirdos and nutters. This view, though deeply unflattering, is perhaps closer to how fashionable society viewed the early Christians. Maybe it’s actually a view we should be proud of; I suspect it’s a lot closer to Jesus’ heart than the respectable version. Look at the motley assortment of undesirables who made up Jesus’ first friends and followers – prostitutes and ‘sinners’, hated tax collectors and ill-smelling fishermen; rebels, rabble and riff-raff.
Of course, Christianity is for everyone, rich and poor, rulers and road-sweepers. But at heart and root it is most of all for bad people; for the losers, the lost and the lonely; the rejected underclass of the unwashed, unwanted and unrespectable. ‘I have not come to call the righteous,’ said Jesus, ‘but sinners to repentance’.
By ‘Christianity’ I mean Christ’s message of forgiveness, of hope, of redemption and reconciliation and renewal for broken and lost and bad people; and also the way in which that message is made real in people’s lives, and put into action in the world.
Christianity is for the lowest of the low; the drunks and junkies, the prostitutes and pariahs, the literal and social lepers, the outcast, the reviled, the unclean, the insane. It is for those struggling with their sexuality or with destructive sexual impulses; yes, even paedophiles and ‘perverts’. It is for all who we seek to avoid or brush under the carpet; the untouchable detritus of society; people we would be ashamed or afraid to associate with (or to be associated with).
Of course, Christianity is for the victims of crime, abuse, oppression, rape, slavery. But shockingly, it’s also for the abusers and oppressors, the enslavers, rapists, muggers and murderers. No-one is beyond the reach of God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness. No-one is beyond redemption. Some may perhaps reject it, out of pride or fear or the deadly desire to cling on to some old wound or hate or bitterness. But none who seek it will be turned away.
Our society labels certain people as evil, as monsters or beasts, meaning we no longer have to view them or treat them as human. It doesn’t like the idea of people like Moors-Murderer accomplice Myra Hindley repenting and being reformed in prison – as she reportedly did. Or of disgraced cash-for-questions cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken becoming a Christian in prison. Cynically we sneer at these tales, and sometimes sadly the cynics are proved right; but grace is real and we need to believe that change is always possible, for anyone.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven’. These are the ones who know they’ve got nothing; they don’t imagine themselves to be good or respectable or worthy. They’re the bottom of the pile and they know it; they feel desperate, dirty, lost, ashamed.
Or again, ‘it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick’. If we were all fine as we are, the kind of message Jesus brings wouldn’t be needed, any more than a society without illness would need doctors. Trouble is, we’re all sick or broken or wounded in different ways; the deep malaise of human nature runs through us all. We try to put sticking plasters over it or just get on as best we can, but it keeps on breaking through – in relational break-up, in fits of rage, in depression, in sexual lapses, in all of the million and one ways we can and do damage each other, ourselves and the world we live in. The advantage of the ones who are already outcast or branded as bad is that it’s easier for them to face up to their brokenness and their need for help – it’s already staring them in the face. For the rest of us, our need to appear together and respectable and self-sufficient gets in the way.
Jesus told the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee; in our day it might be the banker and the bishop, the vagrant and the vicar, or the paedophile and the priest (assuming in this case that the two aren’t the same person). One of the pair is reviled, rejected, seen as sinful and beyond redemption – and knows it; the other is the upright pillar of respectable society – and also knows it. But it is the bad one, the outcast, in the real humility of his cry for help, who God hears; who touches God’s heart. God isn’t impressed or deceived by our false respectability, but he is moved by our genuine cry for mercy.
Of course, when ‘bad’ people come to Christ they don’t stay that way; they start to change, to be set free, to walk a new path. Murderers who truly come to Christ generally become ex-murderers; drunks become reformed or recovering alcoholics. Sometimes these changes happen instantaneously and miraculously. But for often than not, they take a long time, even a lifetime. For a long while, these Christians may continue to lapse occasionally into old ways. They certainly won’t become shiny, respectable, model middle-class citizens all at once – if ever; in fact, if they do, they’ve probably lost the plot.
So inevitably we can expect the church to be full of people who seem slightly (or very) mad, bad or dangerous to know. If it isn’t, maybe something’s gone a bit wrong – maybe we’ve lost the plot.
Jesus is for losers. I’m going to fess up and admit I’m a loser. I don’t mean that I’m worthless, or that I can’t do anything worthwhile – far from it. But I haven’t got it all together; I’m not sorted and complete and fine and good. I struggle. I screw up daily. I’m messed up and I mess up. I need help, and I long for redemption. How about you?