With Jesus All Are Welcome, All Have Influence
Throughout history, there have been many men and women of faith who, from positions of fame and power and influence, have left the world better on a national and global scale.
These faithful, high-profile servants are likened to the high-profile servants in Scripture—those with exceptional access to and/or positions of power such as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Deborah, Ruth, David, Solomon, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Daniel, Matthew, Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, and Paul. As the record shows, these men and women stewarded their lives and influence in ways that honored Jesus’ teaching, “Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:48).
Similarly, Jesus spoke a parable about how he wants us to invest our lives:
“For [the kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more… His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'” (Matthew 25:14-30)
In his thought-provoking book, To Change the World, University of Virginia sociologist James Davidson Hunter says similar things. Writing mainly about those among us who’ve been given “five talents,” Hunter’s theory is that those he calls “cultural elites”—those with access to and control of disproportionate amounts of money, power, networks, and platform—are uniquely positioned to move the needle toward a better, truer, more just, and more beautiful world. Such women and men have a unique opportunity and responsibility to use what has been entrusted to them for good versus ill.
Power, money, influence, and platform are not meant to be hoarded, nor are they meant to be used for selfish purposes. Rather, such “talents” are meant to be invested for King Jesus and his purposes toward a “return” that looks and feels more like the kingdom of God and less like the kingdom of self. Educators, broadcasters, journalists, politicians, authors, athletes, artists, entertainers, executives, and pastors are wise to carefully consider Hunter’s words:
“The deepest and most enduring forms of cultural change nearly always occur from the ‘top down.’ In other words, the work of world-making and world-changing are, by and large, the work of elites: gatekeepers who provide creative direction and management within spheres of social life. Even where the impetus for change draws from popular agitation, it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites. The reason for this, as I have said, is that culture is about how societies define reality—what is good, bad, right, wrong, real, unreal, important, unimportant, and so on. This capacity is not evenly distributed in a society, but is concentrated in certain institutions and among certain leadership groups who have a lopsided access to the means of cultural production. These elites operate in well-developed networks and powerful institutions. Over time, cultural innovation is translated and diffused.”
Hunter’s words raise a very important question for those of us who are neither ‘elites’ nor have access to the power and resources of the elites:
What about those who have comparatively fewer ‘talents’ to work with?
There’s good news. Jesus shows no partiality when it comes to loving and serving the world, so as to participate in his mission of loving a weary world to life. Jesus spoke not only to highly educated influencers like Paul, accomplished physicians like Luke, and wealthy government leaders like Matthew, but also to the least of these—to the lepers and recovering junkies, to the weak and wounded, to the outcasts, and to those struggling to make ends meet—assuring them (and us) that they (and we), too, have an important role to play in his mission. In fact, God chose the weaker and more foolish things to do some of his very best work (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
Jesus spoke to the elites, but he also and especially spoke to ‘average’ and ‘everyday’ and less public people, to blue-collar workers with calluses on their hands and feet, to those who caught fish for a living, to middle managers, and to regular moms and dads. In his sermons and parables, Jesus spoke even more to ‘regular’ folk than he did to the halls of power.
As far as Jesus is concerned, there are no special or ‘elite’ classes of people who uniquely get to participate in his mission of loving people, places, and things to life. Christ’s mission to love, serve, and renew the world is an all-inclusive proposition. Instead, we are all invited to the party. We are all given an important job to do.
In the song, “It’s What You Do with What You’ve Got,” singer-songwriter David Wilcox summarizes the essence of Jesus’ teaching on the investing of talents:
“‘Cause it’s not just what you’re born with;
It’s what you choose to bear.
It’s not how much your share is
But it’s how much you can share.
And it’s not the fights you’ve dreamed of;
But those you really fought.
It’s not just what you’re given;
It’s what you do with what you’ve got.”
I hope you’re as encouraged by how freely Jesus includes so many of us in his mission to love and save the world.
I sure am.