We all have ideas about how to change the world. But when you start talking details, you realize it’s a lot harder than it looks. Here’s how Jesus tackled it.
The challenge of changing the world
A few days ago, I had a conversation with my 16-year-old nephew, Mike. This summer, Mike and a few of his friends set out on a unique mission: They’re re-creating the world from scratch.
These young guys have looked at the world around them and decided they don’t like what they see. But instead of complaining about it, they’re spitballing what the world might look like if they ran the show. It’s actually a great exercise and a good way to spend part of their summer break. Way to go, Mike.
But as Mike explained the ideas he and his buddies are working on, they’re running into the same problems that have plagued other well-intentioned people over the millennia.
Because it turns out, changing the world is a lot harder than it looks.
Changing the world Jesus style
Changing the world requires trade-offs. For example, let’s say you support universal post-secondary education. College tuition is expensive, so you’ll have to raise taxes. But if you raise taxes, you could end up hurting the middle class and make it harder for average, everyday folks to pay their bills, save for retirement or cover the cost of healthcare. See what I mean?
The unfortunate truth is that even small changes have unintended consequences.
Jesus took a different approach. Instead of changing the world with broad brush strokes, he changed the world by applying a handful of guiding principles to the people and situations he encountered in everyday life.
1. Love is expensive.
From church sermons to pop songs, we’re reminded that love is one of life’s most important lessons. But what we don’t hear very often is that love is expensive.
Jesus understood that love has a cost and the price is usually our own convenience, comfort and security.
If love isn’t your primary motivation for trying to change the world, stop now. We already have way too many people pushing their own agendas and changing the world for the wrong reasons.
But if love is your motivation for changing the world, be warned: The choices you make to improve life for other people will usually make your life less comfortable and secure.
2. Outsiders are insiders.
“The last will be first, and the first will be last.” It’s a phrase that’s found throughout the gospel of Matthew. You’ve probably heard it before. But do you really understand what it means?
In Jesus’ worldview, people on the margins move to the center.
Sinners. The poor. Lepers. Samaritans. Time after time, Jesus makes outsiders insiders and gives them his undivided attention and unconditional acceptance.
And for us, that means changing the world isn’t about reshuffling the pecking order at the top of the line. It’s about devoting ourselves to the marginalized — modern-day lepers, Samaritans and outcasts that have been left behind by the world as it currently exists.
3. Money lies.
Money distorts our perspective. It holds us back from making choices that we know are spiritually and morally right. Worse yet, money can incentivize us to actively pursue things that will harm others.
Jesus appreciated the fact that money has a practical purpose. But he also understood how dangerous it can be, describing it as an idol that competes for our devotion to God.
For Jesus, changing the world means turning the tables on conventional money wisdom. In his economy, money doesn’t trump justice. If anything, it serves justice and functions as a tool for the advancing the kingdom of God on earth.
Changing the world isn’t easy, but it’s something we’re called to do. If we’re spiritually serious people, it’s something we have to do — and we do it one person, one situation, one opinion at a time.