Jesus Is for Losers
Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon investigates the various constructions of Jesus in American history. He argues convincingly that what Americans have seen in Jesus has been a reflection of themselves. The versions of Jesus that Prothero sees in American cultural history—Enlightened Sage, Manly Redeemer, or Superstar—are mainly reflections of American ideals and hopes.
Friend of Losers
In the Gospel accounts of Jesus, we see another version: Friend of Losers (Thank you to Steve Taylor for the brilliant song “Jesus is for Losers”). Jesus loved the spiritual losers: swindlers, whores, and drunkards. These were not people “achieving growth in noble virtues.” Jesus told us what to think about his mission for losers: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The good news is that we are all “the sick” who are in the scope of Jesus’ mission. In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther explains the good news this way: “Although I am a sinner according to the Law…nevertheless I do not despair, because Christ lives and he is my eternal and heavenly life. In that righteousness and life I have no sin or death. I am indeed a sinner according to the present life and its righteousness, where the Law accuses me. But above this life I have another righteousness, another life, which is Christ, who does not know sin and death but is righteousness and eternal life.”
Freedom and Joy
The result of this good news being true might be freedom and joy—freedom because we are not God’s enemy and joy because we don’t have to take ourselves so seriously. When Jesus showed up on the scene, he said he brought the kingdom of God. And this kingdom looked like a party to which all the losers were invited. The blind received sight, the lame could walk, and the sick were healed. There was much to celebrate in this kingdom. And many of his parables ended with celebrations and joy. Why do we see so little of this joy or freedom? Have the old Pharisees, with their dour legalism, scared us away from joy and freedom? Have we domesticated the extravagant grace of God by relying on moralist techniques and disciplines? Have we overlooked the fact that we are known and loved by God? Have we forgotten that we are accepted and we don’t deserve it?