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About those Super Bowl Foot-Washing Ads

Updated: Feb 15

Lots of people have been complaining publicly about the two Super Bowl advertisements that gently depicted Christianity as a socially and individually positive option.


The “He Gets Us” campaign has been sponsored in part by the folks who own Hobby Lobby. In the view of many, it appears, the ads are immediately linked with homophobes, MAGA, and all things alt-right. (Here is one typical fulmination in Salon.)

 

Gentle Jesus is being exploited, the critics say, on behalf of evangelical Christianity. And everyone now knows that evangelical Christians are all totalitarian bigots eager to see Donald Trump return to power and avenge himself on his enemies, as a proper messiah should.

 

Perhaps surprisingly—or perhaps not—many Christians, including self-identified evangelicals, have also objected to the ads. The basis of their complaint is quite easily proof-texted (in good evangelical style): “Could not these ad spaces have been sold to others and the money given to the poor?”

 

That’s not an exact rendition of any of the gospel accounts of this story, of course. The original reference was to the anonymous woman’s gift of perfume to Jesus in anticipation of his coming passion. But the principle remains: This seems like a waste of money when the needs of the poor are evident all around us.

 

Jesus’ response is, I suggest, instructive here as it was instructive in the original context. “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me” (John 12:8).

 

The woman in question was worshipping the Lord while she could in the way she could. And Jesus’ reply indicates at least two apposite lessons here: (1) worship—and, by extension, other God-ordained and God-blessed actions—deserves funding alongside poor relief; and (2) if you’re so concerned about the poor, they’re right there for you to help. Don’t criticize others. Get busy yourself.

 

It is true that toward the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus indicates that relief of the oppressed is received by the Lord as service rendered also to him (Matt. 25:31–46). It is also true, however, that at the very end of that same gospel, Jesus epitomizes the mission of the church and doesn’t so much as mention care for the poor:

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:18–20).

 

I have discussed at length elsewhere the mission given to all human beings by the Creator to “make shalom” and the mission given to all Christians by the Lord Jesus to “make disciples.” (The more accessible of the two discussions is Why You’re Here.)

 

Caring for the needy is not a specifically Christian task but instead is incumbent upon any properly functioning human being—or society. Anyone refusing this calling is refusing an essential part of what it means to live as the image of the compassionate God who made us.

 

Anyone undertaking this calling, per Matthew 25, is not only looking after fellow humans, but honouring their Maker. Thus Jesus implies that he is indeed their Maker and so receives such service as honouring also to him.

 

So far, so good. Meanwhile, per Matthew 28, Jesus gives the Christian Church a unique calling: to work under his authority to bring men and women around the globe to faith in him as evidenced in obedience to his commandments.

 

There is no opting out of this Great Commission, no preferring some alternative mode of Christian service while leaving evangelism and disciple-making to others.

 

And what the Lord of the Church has ordained to do, we can expect the Lord of the Church to adequately resource. Do we really think Jesus has given us too little money to spend on worship, disciple-making, and service to others such that we need (wait for it) to rob Peter to pay Paul?

 

I conclude that if the rich people who own Hobby Lobby want to spend their money bringing a huge audience a view of Christianity that is very, very gently evangelistic and true indeed to one of its most basic dynamics—the reconciliation of the estranged in a fellowship devoted to Jesus (see any of Paul’s epistles, or just John 13–17—the original foot-washing story)—then good for them.

 

Evangelism costs money just as social service does—just as perfumed worship does. You want to spend your money on the poor? Have at it.

 

The great evangelist Dwight Moody was upbraided once by a woman who criticized what she felt to be the crudity of his ways. His answer lives on:

 

“It is clear you don’t like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”

 

There’s lots to do, friends. Let’s bless each other in our various modes of service. And especially to those evangelicals who shy away from evangelism, consider that John the Evangelist (John 12:4) puts the complaint about the woman’s extravagant spending in the mouth of a particular disciple:

 

Judas Iscariot.

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