There was a story recently that prosperity gospel televangelist Jesse Duplantis was asking his followers to contribute towards a new personal jet for his ministry. $54 million US is all it would cost for him to add this fourth plane to his fleet. He told his followers that he needed it to get closer to Jesus and spread the gospel. Jesus himself, he said, had told him so. According to CNN, he also said that “all it’s gonna do is it’s going to touch people, it’s going to reach people, it’s going to change lives one soul at a time … I really believe that if Jesus was physically on the earth today, he wouldn’t be riding a donkey.”
In a followup story a week later, Duplantis seemed to be backing away from the request for financial support, saying instead that he asked people to “believe for it.”
Okay. Well, I’m not really interested in debating the prosperity gospel here or questioning the sincerity of his ministry. He claims his “ministry reaches 2 billion people worldwide” (CNN again) and that’s a few more than me and, hey, he’s already got those three other planes, a $3 million house and $40 million net worth. That’s a lot of prosperity to back up his preaching. I have enough trouble keeping my 12 year old car on the road – I hope that’s not a sign of the success of my ministry.
I would like to pick up on something he said about the plane, though. It sounds to me like he believes that the new plane means he can reach more people and, though he says “one soul at a time,” I have a feeling he means in the context of very large meetings of thousands of people. And if Jesus were here today, that’s how Jesus would do it, too.
I don’t know that I agree with that. I don’t mean the first part. I’m sure that Jesse thinks he’ll reach more people, no doubt about that, it’s just that I don’t see how he’ll be doing that “one soul at a time” flying into big meetings, events, conferences and conventions. Or through his media empire, either, and you don’t need a plane for that.
No, I don’t think Jesus would ride a donkey, but I also don’t think reaching as many people as possible was what Jesus was about. I truly believe gathering as a faith community is important – however and whenever one does that – and that we should communicate with any and all kinds of media that are available – whichever might connect with people. But I think we get caught up in numbers: the point isn’t the many, it’s the one. And then the next one and the next one.
Jesus didn’t seek out crowds. They sought him. Jesus sought individuals or maybe two or three people over a meal. I think Jesus was more interested in how many people experienced him than heard his words. Jesus wanted to meet people, one on one, and connect with them. I think he wants to know us as much as we know him.
That’s why I think the gospels are basically a highlight reel. None of them had room for all the details, but there are hints of more. So here’s how I picture Jesus’ ministry. First of all, I think Jesus sought out the broken, the hurting, the marginalized and the forgotten. And it was never a question of bring me more or filling a room. I think Jesus had a gift for making an individual feel like they were the whole world to him, that’s part of what healed them. I hear Jesus beginning with “what’s your story?” and listening to what they had to say before doing anything else with them. Knowing them, meeting them where they were most vulnerable and honouring their story was the beginning of their healing.
And when Jesus had to move on, that wasn’t the end for anyone. They had a new life and a new story to share. And they did. And soon crowds were following Jesus. More importantly, a single person’s story, shared with many, was helping to spread Jesus’ message of love, grace and caring, of turning back to God and living a life that was good and whole. That message was deeper and more personal than just words and it wasn’t spread by Jesus addressing vast crowds, it all began with Jesus and one person who knew his love.
The parable of the mustard seed is a classic among Jesus’ stories (Mark 4:30-32). The kingdom of God is like a tiny little seed that grows into “the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” A pretty obvious metaphor for great things can come from the smallest gesture or moment or act of kindness or even a single person. Great, except how it grows into its greatness is just as important.
Jesus didn’t use an oak for his metaphor, or even a Lebanon cedar. No mighty trees, but rather a lowly mustard. Mustard is a weed. It’s invasive, it creeps in, it takes over, it’s hard to get rid of no matter how hard you try. All it takes is one seed and, before you know it, it’s taken over your field. That’s definitely how the kingdom of God grows.
But mustard being a “weed” depends on your perspective. Even in Jesus’ day it was also a useful crop, producing spice, greens, oil and pigment. With the right care and nurture, it can produce abundantly. That’s the kingdom, too.
Either way, it all begins with one.