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I have always had a strong desire to sit at the cool kids table. As a young boy, I abandoned friends that could not help me get to the other side of the lunchroom to sit with the cool kids. I assumed that time and sanctification would correct this flaw. However, I was proven wrong just yesterday. At the mall, my son and I were the only ones wearing face masks for COVID-19. I was surprisingly embarrassed by my mask. At sixty-three years old, my perceived negative evaluation by these strangers would make me less cool, so I pulled off my mask.
As a young Christian, I was involved in an early evangelism movement wherein my leader would say, “Win the people of influence and you will win more people for Jesus.” He stressed the beautiful, the athletic, and the popular. I have never been particularly beautiful, athletic, or popular—but I longed to be. If the captain of the football team indicated any sort of faith in God, we put him up front to impress everyone with God’s convert. Very much like our non-Christian culture, I was enamored by celebrity Christians. That term may be theological oxymoron. Can one be a celebrity Christian? Is that like bragging about having a fast turtle? Ultimately, it is still just a slow turtle, and the only “celebrity” of our faith is the One who humbled Himself to the point of the cross and calls us to love the least of these.
God’s preoccupation with the “wrong type” of people has often bothered me. I have sometimes thought that God needed my understanding of the culture and the marketplace to build His kingdom. This call to be humble and to be a servant leader—that is not the quick advice of the self-help books. This “win with the winners” philosophy may be a good business philosophy, but it is not how Jesus operated. He was not concerned with being popular or cool.
I often ponder why younger people are embarrassed by the church and are rejecting their faith. I received an email the other day with the headline “Don’t lose your youth—how to keep Jesus cool for young adults.” Maybe one small piece of the failure with this age group and the “win with the winners” philosophy is that this is not what Jesus modeled. There are certainly examples in Scripture of God’s using a well-established and well-known person for His great purposes, such as Paul. However, there are many more examples of the shepherds, fishermen, and tax collectors. There is legitimate discussion among scholars about the meaning of the phrase “the least of these” (Matt. 25:31–46). The phrase is not used often, and its context is often not clear. It could be a reference to persecuted Christians or missionaries. However, the Bible is full of additional comments concerning justice, mercy, and care for the poor. An academic debate about the phrase “the least of these” could miss an important perspective—God turns man’s wisdom on its head.
Many of the laws, both civil and ceremonial, recorded in the Old Testament demonstrate a strong contrast between Israel and the surrounding communities. The watching world would be introduced to the God of the Bible in part by how His people treated the weakest of individuals. Today it would be powerful for churches to show a great distinction between us and the culture surrounding us by how we minister with individuals who can give us nothing back. I wonder if our dying world would notice a church that reached out to and embraced the least of these.
There is a powerful call from our Savior that is countercultural—a call to sacrifice and reach out and purposely sit at the misfit table. The incarnation is the prime example of leaving the cool kids table and sitting with the least of these for the sake of the glory of God. Paul speaks to this as he reminds us whom God reaches:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:26–30)
In a beautiful foreshadowing of the work of Christ found in 2 Samuel 9, David is looking for anyone from the house of Saul to show “the kindness of God” to (v. 3). He finds Mephibosheth, crippled in both feet and living in hiding from the king. Mephibosheth could offer David nothing. He could not fight as a soldier and presumably was unable to walk—just like us, for we are broken and crippled and are not needed in the kingdom of God. But David brought Mephibosheth in and had him sit at his table. “Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table. Now, he was lame in both feet” (v. 13). So, my problem, and possibly yours, may be that we are concerned with the wrong table. The cool kids table excludes the lame, broken, and disenfranchised. The King’s table is open to whomever the King invites and is full of the people we might call the “least of these.”