By Alan Bean
I have been driven to a startling conclusion: the God who burns with compassion for the outcast is our salvation. That simple message fueled the ministry of Jesus.
Jesus’ solidarity with the poor wasn’t stressed much in the churches I knew as a child. No one denied that the Savior cared for the poor or that charity was a Christian virtue; but we were taught that Jesus came to save our souls for heaven. Period. End of story. That being so, the Savior’s compassion for the poor and marginalized was theologically irrelevant.
Charity was never disparaged, understand. Saved people were expected to show kindness to vulnerable and needy people; but these acts of kindness had nothing to do with “getting saved” or, more precisely, salvation had nothing to do with these acts of kindness. Despite what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, concern for “the less fortunate” was optional. Technically, if Ebenezer Scrooge, in full bah- humbug mode, had believed that Jesus Christ died for his sins, he had his ticket to heaven. Good works might suggest that you were being sanctified, but they had nothing to do with salvation, so Ebenezer, the unrepentant sinner, was saved. God might not like it; but those were the rules.
Then we stumble into the Gospels, a world where salvation means deep identification with the poor. We don’t earn our salvation by caring for the poor; God’s love for a broken humanity is our salvation. In this we see the glory of God.
This came home to me in a powerful way this Christmas eve in a weird, stream of consciousness collage. Given the season, we might as well call it an epiphany. (more…)