The Jesus Business: Hook or Gift?

Once upon a time, for about a decade or so, I made my living writing and singing songs and jingles. I became rather deft at pitching products like my own rock band, The Evinrudes, and major American brands such as Ford and McDonalds. With a well-honed voice, a quick turn of the phrase and catchy tune, I became quite the pro in the hook selling business. More than a few times, I experienced the power of a popular song to bring people together, performing for large crowds, singing hooks over and into the masses, there was a power there I couldn’t explain, often a rare feeling of oneness in those moments when everybody knows the words to the song and are all singing as one, it felt spiritual, but of course, when it was over, the moment was gone.

Christ Pantocrator - Mosaïque de la Déisis - Sainte-Sophie (Istambul, Turquie)
Christ Pantocrator – Mosaïque de la Déisis – Sainte-Sophie (Istambul, Turquie)

Jesus had once again performed a miraculous deed of healing and the “whole city” was gathered at the door, pressing in to meet him (Mark 1:29-39), they couldn’t say exactly why, drawn by that feeling of Oneness they seemed to feel whenever he was around. He was gaining quite a following, the crowds and masses began gathering wherever he was and everywhere, it felt as if the Spirit were alive again and among the people, that was such a rare feeling, after all, living, as they did, in a culture of fear. Perhaps they had also feared that this feeling would never come again, this spiritual feeling, this good feeling, and they wanted to collect as much of it as they could in the moment before it disappeared.

It was so strange how the word got out because he didn’t advertise anywhere, he didn’t have a three word slogan that you could easily hashtag or get out on twitter, a Youtube video gone viral, he had not appeared on American idol or had a number one hit record, yet, still the news spread somehow and the crowds came in droves.

The temptation must have been enormous. With this new kind of power he had, that even the demons obeyed, to set up shop and make a profit off of these vulnerable masses of people, they were so very desperate for a new solution, just like us, desperate for a cure, for peace, freedom, healing, purpose in life, for someone to relieve them of the great human wound, for that elusive spiritual feeling to come again, for power.

He could have easily built his own temple, his very own stage, he was a carpenter, after all, he knew how to do that sort of thing, and begun charging admission or perhaps, like our early American clergy, charged a pew tax for his services to cover his expenses. They would have paid like people pay for a lottery ticket even when they can’t afford food because hope is worth more than a half-full belly. He could have built a fine reputation and profited greatly off of a career as a charismatic preacher, the numbers would have been off the charts, the mega church of the ancient world. The good programs he could have started would have saved the world, with overflowing ministries for the homeless, children and youth; he could have built a wonderfully resourced Christian education wing and people would come from miles around and donate lots of money to his causes if only he would stay in one place long enough to build something special, it would have been spectacular. He could have become a superstar, this Jesus that would be the Christ.

The crowds, the masses, wanted what he had but they were frustrated because it was not for sale. They couldn’t buy him or his services and it was so agitating because he was always on the move, he was a hard person to get a read on, impossible to get your hooks into him, it always seemed as if he were coming from somewhere else. Instead of staying in one place and building accolades and a popular and effective ministry, he fled to the next town, everyone wanted him to stick around but he rarely gave in, he simply said, “it’s time to go to the neighboring town so that I can proclaim the message for that is what I came out to do.” (1:38)

Jesus was a marketing person’s dream, not only was he always on message, he had “it” whatever “it” is, the power to draw a crowd, to persuade an audience, with special powers and a magnetic persona. A personal manager would have already lined up a book deal and a speaking tour with a reality show in the works, perhaps some theme about surviving the wilderness with Bear Grylls (I would definitely watch that.) It’s just how we think. Fame and prestige equal importance and influence in our world and when someone rejects the opportunity to achieve such, it is unsettling, we don’t quite have a category for it.

In our culture, the Jesus brand is a multi-gazillion dollar industry, complete with a Jesus action figure doll. We clearly know how to buy and sell Jesus, but this story in Mark’s gospel challenges us to ask ourselves the question: do we know how to proclaim the Christ? Are we aware of the difference between marketing and proclaiming? Do we know the difference between a hook and a gift? Jesus speaks of “what he came to do” here in 1:38, that is to proclaim God’s love as the one thing that is flowing in the world that is not for sale; to offer love as a gift, not a product, no strings attached. The reason it is important to keep “proclaiming” this is that it is a really, really hard thing to believe, we have a hard time trusting what we cannot buy.

I find that this elusive Spirit of Christ is not something that can be easily put into nice, neat packages or sermons or dogmas. It’s sometimes difficult for us to separate the mysterious Jesus of the ancient world with the Jesus of our hyper sales, consumerist driven culture.

If we look closely, we understand that Jesus the Christ represents something very different than a brand. For one thing, the Jesus of the ancient world simply doesn’t have the same trappings we do. In Jesus’ ministry, he was not focused on his popularity, he didn’t seem to care much about his personal ratings, his celebrity, or his career, he didn’t focus on profit or even drawing big numbers into his core group, he only had 12 disciples; he didn’t seem to worry too much about funding either, he wasn’t concerned about buildings, or multi-level platforms, he didn’t even heal everyone who desired it, he simply said, “I must do what I came to do” which is to proclaim the message of God’s love as saving medicine for the world and he moved on quickly. He went about proclaiming and healing, proclaiming and healing….not much of a marketing plan, it wouldn’t quite fit into all of our schemes for the quick and easy slogans of brand loyal religion, it’s just what Jesus did.

He simply remained focused on the manifestation of the Spirit in the world, and it spread like wildfire. Everyone he healed went about proclaiming and in their proclaiming, others would find healing and it became a cycle. There really was no formula for this other than his continuous message that he could do nothing except through God, that he and God were One and so he prayed also, that we would participate in this Oneness as his final, earthly prayer.

It seems as if there is a lot of pressure on the church to have the answers to the world’s problems and yet all we really have to offer is a simple love that heals and makes whole. To quote N.T. Niles, “the gospel is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” If we offer this, it is enough.

If we embody Christ, the Christ that emerges from the ancient world, not the brand Jesus we’ve created here in America, but the humble One who refused prestige and glory, if we really have this Christ in us, then the answer to what we focus on becomes simple, it is love. Love that compels the sharing of the news that God heals and restores us to wholeness. This is full time work, by the way, in whatever occupation we are in, love undergirds our inspiration and creative instincts.

Jesus, in his work and mission, tells us a different story about ourselves, a story of how the Spirit works in us and in the world, it is the work of the soul’s life, the work of transformation that occurs primarily at the spiritual level, in the depths of soul. This is a gift that cannot be marketed, bought or sold, it is freely given in hearts that will embrace it, full of love and grace and compassion and truth. God does the rest, we simply give ourselves over to this path and become converted, transformed souls, willing to mine the depths within ourselves and give out of our souls that which God has placed there, pure love. Perhaps the soul that is born of the Spirit is the one, indestructible thing left in this world simply because it is connected to the eternal source of Divine love, God. This is not a message that can be marketed, only proclaimed, it cannot be sold, only given.

As you come to be embraced by this kind of love, you begin to feel the hooks coming out of you, no longer possessed by the frenetic forces that drive you to consume or be consumed. You begin to comprehend love as a gift, not a product, and you become more like love, less like a performer. As you come to know the true essence of your soul, which is love, you feel freer to let go of the other attachments, the ways of being you have learned to survive in a world that conditions you to believe you are a merely a performer, put here to produce goods and services for others and the marketplace. You begin to understand that your worth is connected to your soul, your true worth and true self belong to God’s love, it is not something that can be evaluated by measures such as performance or production. Buying and selling are not even categories in the soul’s realm. As you move closer to Christ in you, you begin to gain clarity about “what you came to do” and realize the source of your true identity is always love, calling you from this ancient story, calling from the center of your being, calling from your heart, “you must do what you came here to do,” giving your self over to the love that is freely given.

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Speaker, Author, Musician, Pastor, Nature Lover. Co-Founder of the Social Enterprise: Dreamweave: Renew Lives, Recyle Products;

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