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FIRST-PERSON: The meek shall inherit Malibu

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–In Malibu, Calif., people don’t talk about Mel Gibson, Jennifer Aniston or Barbra Streisand. Instead, they refer to their fellow citizens as “Mel,” “Jennifer” and “Barb.” And so it is only natural that the mayor of the coastal city just goes by his first name, “Winston.”

The average household income of Malibu probably is more than the GDP of some countries. But that doesn’t mean that the city isn’t bustling with the impoverished, including a sizable homeless population. And Winston isn’t your typical “Mayor Moonbeam,” speaking about social justice for the homeless at cocktail parties. Instead, Winston is repulsed by those who will sign on for campaigns for global economic justice but can “hardly get involved with the poor here.”

Winston is with the homeless and the impoverished on virtually a daily basis, helping with economic emergencies and, even more important, learning names and listening to the homeless as people who share a common image of God. Winston says his mission to the homeless is rooted in the ministry of Jesus: “Jesus walked around and helped a lot of people, and that’s my thing: To be like Jesus you’ve got to walk around and help people.”

But there’s one more thing that you should know about Winston.

When he walks into a room people stop to stare — but not because of any pervasive fame or striking good looks. Winston himself is homeless. Every night he is without a home or a bed on which to sleep, and every morning he wakes up thinking about how he is going to eat that day. The people of Malibu never elected him mayor, but the homeless of that city call him their mayor nonetheless. This may be because he does for them all the things they think a mayor should do. Above all, they know their appointed “mayor” is out to serve their best interests, whether they know yet what those may or may not be.

The tongue-in-cheek title of an unknown impoverished man living in anonymity against the backdrop of one of America’s richest cities ought to remind American Christians of an ancient — but often forgotten — biblical truth. James tells us that care for the poor is not a matter of pity, but rather of eschatology. After all, James writes, Christians’ hyper-attention to the wealthy ignores the fact that God has chosen the poor who are rich in faith to be “heirs of the kingdom” (James 2:5).

This is Jesus’ point when He notes that the one who is faithful in little shall be given responsibility over much (Matthew 25:23). The issue here is ruling over the universe in a restored new creation. The New Testament churches were reminded not to assume that God apportions ruling responsibility on the same basis as the present world system.

Perhaps the homeless of Malibu intuit just such a truth: Winston ought to be governor of something. Nothing could seem farther from reality in a culture obsessed with wealth and celebrity — especially in a state that elects mayors named Eastwood and governors named Schwarzenegger.

But the churches should listen to Winston’s title, even as they pray for the day in which the triumphant King Jesus will give us all a new name (Revelation 2:17) and a new sphere of responsibility over some aspect of the universe. Perhaps then we will all call Winston “Mr. Mayor,” or something even better.

Until then, let’s remember that how we treat the aged and newly unemployed contractor or the lady collecting cans along the highway tells us more than simply what we believe about “charity.” It tells us what we believe about the Kingdom of Christ. So let’s guard our hearts against a celebrity culture that values glitz and cache. And let’s keep in mind that the meek shall inherit the earth. And that means they inherit Malibu, too.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Robbie Sagers is a student in the school of theology at Southern Seminary and an intern with Moore.

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  • Russell D. Moore & Robbie Sagers