In the first weeks I was here in Ecuador, I was sitting in a faculty meeting at the local school. I was a little late, and I sat down next to a young woman. Within the first 5 minutes of our conversation, she somehow found the segue to ask me if I could procure a smartphone from the States for her.
About 6 months ago, the town had its local fiestas with a parade. At the end of the parade, I found myself standing next to a gentleman about my age. We began to talk, and he mentioned that he is working on a project for a senior care facility in a local area. Within 5 minutes, he was asking me if I could find potential donors in the States.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a local young woman friend, who was going around to some banks to look for a loan to start a small business. She said to me, “I was hoping I could get the money from you!”
Last week, a friend from the school asked me if there was a way to look for donors in the States when I go back home.
I can tell you that they are all now very disappointed in me.
I can see the attitude: “You are from the States. Where is the salvation? Where is the kingdom? Where is the money, the projects, the dazzling displays of success and growth and power? Why aren’t you taking us with you to the American dream!?”
You see, I don’t offer money or programs or projects. My clumsy Spanish skills don’t allow me to speak with the smoothness that inspires confidence in my capacity. I don’t offer the American Dream. What I offer is myself. I offer the Gospel.
There’s one point in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke where John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah. I am imagining the disciples saying to themselves, OK, we’ve bought into John the Baptist, and we get it that he’s pointed out Jesus as the Messiah. But John is in prison, and, yeah, we hear stories about Jesus healing people and preaching. But it doesn’t really look like a success story unfolding here. A guy in jail and another guy going around and teaching and helping people. Where is the king, the one who’s going to save Israel? Where is the stuff like Herod is doing, where is the development that a great king brings? Where then are the buildings, the projects, the programs, the money and the good stuff? Where’s the political power and might? Where’s the stuff that a king gives us? Why isn’t Jesus taking us with Him to the restored, mighty Kingdom of David?!
So Jesus gives them His own personal calling card, the calling card of the Messiah:
“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” (Lk 7:22-23)
“That’s not what I am here for. That’s not what I am building. That is not the Kingdom of God. I am not offering the restored Kingdom of David of old. I am offering you myself. I am offering you the Gospel.”
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians about his visit to them. He tells them that he came to them afraid and nervous and weak, without much speaking skills or suave expressions – not the image of success and power that could build programs and projects and a kingdom. He’s not offering a kingdom of material development. He’s offering himself. He’s offering them the Gospel.
One of my favorite moments of every week is when I arrive at the center for the disabled on Friday morning. When I hear their voices leap to see me, when I arrive and give hugs and joke around, and get ready to spend a day together with them, that is what I am here to do. I can’t speak all that well, and I don’t have money or a job or a plan for success for them. But I am with them. I can give them the Gospel.
Jesus hasn’t come to offer you or me money or power or successes or skills. He doesn’t come to offer us the American Dream, or the Kingdom of Israel, or our own personal kingdom in business or family or church. God’s kingdom isn’t about that. No, Jesus becomes weak and vulnerable and humble because that’s the foundation of giving us the gift that makes everything else go. He wants to give us Himself.
He offers us the Gospel.
When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)