*The following is Part 2 of a journal reflection written in July of 2019 while on sabbatical with my family traveling overseas.
Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32, 42-43 NASB)
28“But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today in the vineyard.’ 29And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he regretted it and went.30The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, ‘I will, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him…42Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this became the Chief Cornerstone; this came about from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 43Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.
As I have worked my way through the gospel of Matthew over the recent weeks, I have been struggling with this concept of the “upside down kingdom.” I very much understand the premise as for all of my adult life I have lived with and among the poor, the disabled, and the marginalized. For example, at a recent meeting I attended, if you had looked around the room, aside from a few politicians who were present, the group closely resembled the stereotype and reality of my neighborhood: people who have suffered in this life, folks living in poverty, neighbors who are under-educated and/or unemployed, unlike the makeup of a similar group that might take place in a wealthier part of the city. Making this observation, the thought came to me that this group probably had some similarities to the people that had flocked to Jesus and followed Him. Ultimately, it was the marginalized (marked also by being “poor in spirit”) who believed and became His disciples and, eventually, the Church as we understand it today. But here is where I am forced to pause as I see a distinction in my community: for the most part, the South Side is not any different than the rest of my city in that they, largely speaking, are not any more likely to believe in Jesus in a way that leads to transformed lives; lives of “producing fruit.” That said, I can’t and shouldn’t elevate the materially poor and marginalized as being more holy than the non-poor. Apart from the grace of the Lord and one’s response to His call to believe in the gospel and repent, thus leading to a transformed life, we are all just as lost. It is truly by His mercy that any of us call upon Him as Lord and Savior!
All that said, the South Side is not any more holy or fertile ground than anywhere else, contrary to the assumption that the poor are more receptive to the gospel . And if I am honest, I see just as much hardness of heart here as I do in the rest of our city, or even world for that matter. This is a frustrating and discouraging reality. Though we live and labor with a gospel hope in the South Side, many in our community seem indifferent to the gospel. Thus, I ask:
- Is there more value to living in the South Side (in and among the poor) than not?
- Is it more effective in providing opportunities to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of Jesus?
- Are the poor that we know in the US any more likely to repent and live in such a way as to live lives of submission and obedience to the Lord that leads to their bearing fruit and so showing themselves to be His disciples than those of us who are not considered materially poor (John 15:8)?
Why, Lord, do we not see more people coming to know you as Christ the Lord? People just seem apathetic, both rich and poor. WHY?
My assessment is this: living in and among the poor does not necessarily lend itself to disciple making of those we befriend and serve. So, in that regard, perhaps it does not matter where you live. What Jesus modeled was a focus on people and relationships. I will say that disciple making seems easiest (or at least the most effective) when done among those with whom you live by, for relationships happen in the context of proximity and day to day life. At the end of the day I suppose it has less to do with living among the poor as it does to being faithful and obedient to devote oneself to make disciples of all people as an expression of love of God and love of others. And to do this effectively, living among those you hope to reach just makes practical sense.
I recently read A Hunger for God by John Piper and found great encouragement from this quote:
“I recall a testimony from Bill Leslie, a former pastor of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago, who had a long and remarkable ministry in the city, not unlike the one described in Isaiah 58. He came to Minneapolis once and told of a near breakdown that he had had and how a spiritual mentor directed him to this chapter. He said it was verse 11 that saved him from a dead-end street of exhaustion and burnout:
‘And if you will give yourself to the hungry,
And satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
Then your light will rise in darkness,
And your gloom will become like midday.
And the LORD will continually guide you,
And satisfy your desire in scorched places,
And give strength to your bones;
And you will be like a watered garden,
And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.’
What struck Pastor Leslie so powerfully was the fact that God promises to make us like a watered garden (not just a watering ministry, but a watered ministry). That is, we will receive the water we need for refreshment, and we will become a spring of water that does not fail – for others – for the demanding, exhausting, draining ministry of urban self-giving.” (Piper128-129).[i]
to make us like a watered garden (not just a watering ministry, but a watered
ministry).” Thank God for His abundant mercy and grace. As the weeks have
passed since I wrote this journal reflection – a season of discouragement and
near burnout for me personally – the Lord has been gracious to let the rain
fall, watering my soul, giving me a growing hope for His kingdom to come, and making
me as a spring whose waters do not fail. Thank God for His abundant mercy,
grace, hope, peace that surpasses all understanding, and life.
[i] Piper, John. A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 1997. Print.