Jesus did not come to save you, nor to make you prosper. Jesus came to save the world and help it prosper. Of course that includes you, but not exclusively.
The morning I write this, these thoughts came to mind after hearing a discussion on NPR of an evangelical pastor about personal salvation and individual prosperity followed by reading a New York Times column by David Brooks about reparations best going to communities rather than individuals. All of this in the context of the pandemic and the racial divide.
I grew up as the kind of Baptist that emphasized personal salvation. I had no idea that there were other kinds of Baptist and other kinds of Christian that emphasized the salvation of our world, our environment and our communities. To my knowledge, at the time there was no “prosperity gospel,” though The Power of Positive Thinking of Norman Vincent Peale came close, influencing President Trump’s father and apparently himself.
In high school, I remember being moved by John Hersey’s novel A Single Pebble that offered a different perspective, that of Asian religions and cultures, featuring the greater importance of the collective, of the community, over individual concerns.
And then I became a Presbyterian my first year of college and learned for the first time that salvation was not my personal escape clause from hell but sought the redemption of a fallen world. “God’s got the whole world in God’s hands,” we had sung as evangelical fundamentalist children, though with male pronouns. “Jesus is coming” was not seen as a joyous occasion of transformation but as a threat to non-believers and Christian “backsliders.” The cosmic Christ would end the world.
Only through a Spiritual Formation course at Columbia Seminary a few years ago did I fully “get” that the whole Bible is about God coming to be with us, first “tabernacling” with the Hebrews, becoming Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) for Christians, and, in Revelation, not destroying the world but making his/her/their home with us, renewing and refreshing heaven and earth.
And the story of the Incarnation is that Jesus did not “come” from anywhere else, but was, in the psalmist’s words, “knit together in a mother’s womb, fearfully and wonderfully made” as we all are. The gospel he proclaimed was of a commonwealth already in our midst, even within us, if we only shared a divine vision, empathy, and desire for us to heal one another and our world.
The story of the Bible is that God has been with us all along. And in all of us. “Red and yellow, black and white—all are precious in his sight,” we sang in Sunday school. And, I have come to believe, in all of us regardless of religious perspective.
Mere personal survival was Jesus’ first temptation (“turn these stones into bread”) and is ours as well. Through his ministry and his teachings Jesus transforms personal survival to personal sacrifice, encouraging all to offer our lives to others for the sake of and in the realization of the commonwealth of God. That’s how the bread and wine of mere survival become the body and blood of full communion with the world. We are called to be, in the apostle Paul’s words, “living sacrifices.”
That’s how God loves us, how God saves us, how God lives in us—unless we mess it up.
Visit Chris Glaser’s website here.