The True Message of Christ is St. Francis, Not Televangelists
As so many of us are familiar, Jesus was born in a manger. Around barn animals. Trying to picture it, it had to be pretty dirty in there. Mary and Joseph rush in and find a comfortable spot on what was essentially the equivalent of a cow’s feeding trough.
You know… the Lord?
The person who Christians don’t even like referring to as a man — to most of the Western world he is the literal Son of God.
The Prince of King God was born on top of where animals eat.
As I understand it, everything on the level of form is symbolic, meaning that every detail (especially) of Jesus’s life was symbolic of higher truths. In this monumental chapter of his life (his birth), there is a startling lack of emphasis on materialism — a startling lack of emphasis on wealth and our perceived notions of societal stature.
The Matthean author quotes Christ in his most famous sermon:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.”
— Gospel of Matthew 6:24–29
The great Saint Francis of Assisi was very closely tied to Jesus’s teachings of non-attachment to wealth. Emphasizing humility, getting to the core of humanity and the true teaching, he was so unconcerned with material gain that his monastic order was and is almost entirely associated around the vow of poverty.
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received — only what you have given.”
―St. Francis of Assisi
And during his day, 13th century Italy, these sentiments had already been forgotten by Christian communities.
One Christmas St. Francis visited a wealthy church that had gold-plated everything, with pews full of immaculately-dressed, pompous Italian aristocrats. He got so disgusted by the extravagance that he left the service and brought back in dozens of barn animals in an attempt to remind them of the true nature of Jesus’s birth, creating a chaotic scene that first shocked and angered the churchgoers. Francis then got up and preached to them about Jesus’s overwhelming embrace of the poor and his non-attachment to material wealth. Over the course of his passionate sermon they were left in remorseful reflection.
This story tells me two things:
To not fall into the trap of “prosperity theology”, a type of contemporary Christianity adequately conned by televangelists that encourages incorporating spirituality with opulent material gain.
From CNN, “This televangelist is asking his followers to buy him a $54 million private jet” (May 30, 2018):
Jesse Duplantis, leader of Jesse Duplantis Ministries and the owner of three other private jets, is asking his followers to chip in so his ministry can purchase a brand new Dassault Falcon 7X, which runs about $54 million.
In a video recently published on his website, Duplantis says the planes get him closer to the Lord — both literally and figuratively — and he had a divine conversation in which Jesus asked for the new aircraft by name.
“It was one of the greatest statements the Lord ever told me, he said, ‘Jesse do you want to come up where I’m at?’” the minister says. “‘I want you to bleed me for a Falcon 7X.’”
By “bleed,” Duplantis — er, Jesus — apparently meant “ask for donations.”
Duplantis, Jim Bakker, Peter Popoff and many other Pentecostal & Charismatic Christian leaders would be well-served to flip back through those red letters.
But secondarily, that Christmas incident in medieval Italy means there is still hope for the true message. While society can quickly lose touch with the original sparks of Divine Love, as the centuries come and go, we are reignited by a wide range of teachers and mystics.