In the 1950s, observers coined “upward mobility” to describe the lower- and middle-class rise to better conditions: more money, nicer houses, higher social status, early retirement, and financial security.
Who wouldn’t love it? Upward mobility is the American dream, cheerily reinforced by media that depict the good life as material and monetary well-being. A 10-second Internet search surfaces nearly 150,000 “upward mobility” links, from government programs to advance minorities to a women’s college golf team improving their win record . . . a wireless company CEO getting the jump on competitors . . . or a look at the class of 2005 in a prestigious private university.
Americans love upward mobility.
But for Americans that profess the Christian faith, upward mobility poses a challenge. Jesus did little to improve social and economic status. He concentrated on society’s poor and outcast and said few words about the rich and powerful. He said nothing good about social rank or celebrity, and extended himself to beggars, lepers, and the blind. He spoke of heart matters—not material things. To describe the kingdom of God, he pointed to common things like seeds in the ground, flowers in the field, mustard bushes, birds of the air, and yeast in bread dough.
He said, “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). He said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35), and “What does it profit a person, to gain the whole world and forfeit one’s life?” (Mark 8:36).
Much of Jesus’ life and teachings directly counter cultural aspirations. In fact, Jesus is a downwardly mobile Savior. In Him, God lived among us in human form to reach the lowly and downtrodden with the open love and mercy of God. And He calls us to follow Him.
The apostle Paul summed up Jesus’ call this way: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Christ’s actions all aimed down: He emptied himself, took the form of a slave, was born in human likeness, humbled himself, obeyed even to death on a cross. Paul urges us to have the same mind, Christ’s way of thinking—His way of humility, of servant-love, his willingness to regard others as more important than himself.
What does it mean, in an affluent consumer culture, to follow Jesus? The question has no easy answers, no formulas. But Christians are called to think, act, and speak differently than the dominant culture. The mind of Christ influences our values, our lifestyles, the dreams we encourage in our children. It transforms our daily choices at home, in the marketplace, at work, at school.
When Christians serve others, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick . . . when we confront evil, pursue justice, seek to heal relationships . . . our actions are countercultural, downwardly mobile, the way of the servant.
Question for discussion:
• What does Jesus mean when he calls us to be “servant of all”?