“Did you see the picture of the President praying with his council of religious leaders,” he asked. “What did you think about it?’
We were in the produce department of the grocery store. The question came immediately after ‘hello.” Not a good sign.
It was soon apparent to me that this was a loaded question, based on the presumption that I would agree with his opinion about the praying President picture. “You’re a pastor; surely you would find the picture gratifying and refreshing.”
When he discovered that I wasn’t particularly impressed with the picture, the conversation was over, and he went back to picking tomatoes. There was no curiosity about my point of view. No follow-up question. And the real kicker – no interest in what the Bible might say about the matter.
I wanted to tell him how wealthy all these pastors are. How insulated they are from the lives of those who live from “hand to mouth.” I wanted to say how many times they looked away from the alienated and suffering and continued preaching their health and wealth gospel. The council of 25 includes one pastor who lives in a $10 million mansion and has a net worth of $40 million. There are others too.
Given the chance, I would have told him about how hard God was on those Old Testament prophets who were in the pockets of the political leaders of their day. I could have read him text after text that condemned religious leaders who ignored the plight of the little people. Today these folks would be the immigrant, the disenfranchised, the hated, and the suffering.
I would feel better about the praying picture if a Mother Teresa were sitting at the table. And a Nelson Mandela. Throw in a missionary who works for peanuts in an African village or in a leper’s colony like Father Damien De Veuster before his death from leprosy. We know, of course, that they would not be welcomed at the health and wealth table. A woman wearing a simple sari and a man with a lepered face doesn’t look good next to a three-piece suit.
A little woman who works in the slums of India also tends to make mansion dwellers uncomfortable. And what does a billionaire say to a person who is uncompromising in commitment to love the unlovable? How can you sit in ease next to someone who lives in a hovel and disdains your expensive sofa?
The embarrassing thing is that the slum dweller would know, better than anyone, what is needed to restore the vision that God has for his people and his world.
The White House photographer will never get the picture I’d like to see because the Mother Teresa type would have never sat still for a set-up picture in a luxurious office; she’d be too busy serving the poor and sick.