And yet I am encouraged by all the Christians I know who are making themselves bigger. Who do not turn away from the complexities of all ‘those social tasks’. Who refuse the lie that our only hope is an escape to a disembodied eternity, and instead embrace the tough places and tough people. These are the Christians who work hard, think hard, pray hard and suffer hard. They are collaborators with God’s purpose to ‘perfect justice in the spirit of love’.
I still think of the girl at the massage parlour in Thailand. She still haunts me. So what has the gospel got to say to her?
Yes, she needs to hear that Christ died for her and accepts her and washes her clean and gives her a fresh start.
Yes, she needs to hear that he can heal the pain and the wounds that she has suffered.
And yes, she needs to hear that Jesus can deliver her from the choices that she has made or that have been made for her.
But that is not enough.
Christ came to set the captives free, not to see them continue in slavery. What does the good news look like for her?
Yes, it is all the things that I have just said – but it is more.
It has got to include safety from the men and women who control her.
It must mean different opportunities for earning a living.
And it needs to include a welcoming community of grace and acceptance, where she can know that she belongs and is intrinsically valued – that she is more than a pimp’s commodity or a church’s project.
In Matthew 11, John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was the real thing. Jesus did not answer him directly but told John’s friends to report to John what they saw Jesus doing: the lame, blind and poor were being blessed. Their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs were being met.
In recording this encounter, Matthew shows us how we can recognise authentic Christian mission. When the gospel is being proclaimed, the last, the least and the lost are blessed. We can be confident that real Christian mission is taking place when the poor receive good news. This is how we know what is orthodox, what is authentic, what is Christ’s work.
Good news for the hungry has got to include food. Good news for the lonely has got to include community. And good news for a young woman in a massage parlour has got to include more than the four spiritual laws and a prayer of commitment. The good news of Jesus applies all the reality of God to the entire reality of our experience.