The speaker on Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ one morning recently, spoke about an American evangelist, Jesse Duplantis, who had asked his followers to donate towards a new $54million private jet for his personal use. He claimed that he found it hard travelling with other people on scheduled flights. The previous day he had been quoted in The Independent as saying ‘Jesus wouldn’t be riding a donkey today. Think about it for a minute; he’d be in an airplane preaching the gospel all over the world’.
The Radio 4 speaker had her doubts and I rather agreed with her when she suggested that Jesse Duplantis had completely misread what Jesus’ ministry was really about. For a start, was Jesus even riding on a donkey? If you search through the four gospels reading the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, you find only one reference to him riding on a donkey and that was on his entry to Jerusalem, a highly symbolic moment echoing an Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. And the donkey was borrowed from a friend. One suspects that Jesus, like his followers normally walked and walked long distances.
We do read of Jesus and his disciples crossing Lake Galilee by boat, a convenient way to travel from one part of the lake to another. But Jesus never owned a boat. In all probability his disciples would borrow a fisherman’s boat from a friend or commandeer the Zebedee family boat in which John and James and their father used to fish.
As for Jesus travelling the world, his ministry was geographically restricted to a group of small towns and villages in Galilee plus his annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. He never travelled outside his own country; that he left to his followers to do. He was a modest man who avoided publicity and lived a simple life which was about helping people and showing them the way to God. Should not this be the model for all of us called to minister today in his name?
In the gospel account of Jesus sending out his followers to undertake some mission work themselves, he instructs them to take very little with them. ‘Don’t take money or shoes or even a beggars bag’ he says. One can only assume that donkeys weren’t allowed either. If they were invited to stay in a home, he said, stay there, don’t look for somewhere better. Eat what is set before you. And when they came back from their mission, we are told that they returned with great joy.
Jesus was never rich. He owned nothing, he had no house, or anything that he could call his own. He commented on one occasion that even foxes had holes and birds had nests but he had nowhere to lay his head. He lived a simple life relying on the good will of those to whom he ministered to provide him and his disciples with a meal and a bed for the night.
Today we live in a very different culture to that of first century Palestine. Maybe it is appropriate for today’s evangelists to own a $54m private jet to enable them to travel the world with the gospel message. But I am not convinced that Jesus, if he was alive today would have found it necessary or appropriate. I think it more likely that he would be on a Ryan Air flight squeezed in between other passengers, the very people he had come to help. At night he might be found in a Travelodge rather than in a five star hotel or more probably, eating at the table of ordinary people and sleeping in their spare rooms.
We must all make our own decisions about our values. But if we are to serve Jesus, then surely our lives have to reflect his values. If they do not, then our message will be hollow and the word hypocrite will be on our hearer’s lips.
....his ministry was geographically restricted to a group of small towns and villages in Galilee ...