Friday, February 22, 2008

The Kingdom of God > Post 2

3. The Kingdom is essential.

It is important for us to understand that The Kingdom of God is crucial to the mission and message of Jesus. In fact, this is his first act in his ministry- not that he would conquer the Romans as the Messiah the Jews anticipated, and not that we need to utter a prayer for salvation like many modern Christians think- but Jesus first public act is proclaiming this “good news”, this alternative to the way of the world:

Mark 1: 14 & 15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

Over and over and over he tells parables to illustrate what the Kingdom is like, in the Gospels the phrase Kingdom of God or Kingdom of Heaven (which I will treat as synonymous) occurs over 100 times. Jesus made bold claims which ultimately led to his death and also the deaths of his immediate followers:

John 18: 36-38: Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." "You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."

The understanding of the Kingdom of God is essential, because it makes sense of everything else. In light of the Kingdom of God, we can know what is important, what is worthwhile, and what will last. From the same chapter in Matthew as the Lord’s Prayer:

Matthew 6: 31-33: So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Again, we see Jesus drawing a difference between God’s Kingdom and what the pagans run after. We see a difference between the way of the world and the way of Jesus. This has been the fundamental divide in all of human existence. In his book “The City of God” St. Augustine frames our situation in a story of two opposing cities:

“There is a city of God, and its founder has inspired us with a love which makes us covet its citizenship. To this founder of the holy city the citizens of the earthly city prefer their own gods, not knowing that He is the God of gods, not of false, i.e. of impious and proud gods, who, being deprived of his unchangeable and freely communicated light, and so reduced to a kind of poverty-stricken power, eagerly grasp at their own private privileges, and seek divine honors from their deluded subjects…”
(St. Augstine, City of God, Book xi. 1)

In praying the Lord’s prayer, we are articulating our citizenship in God’s Kingdom, essential to participating in God’s way vs. the way of the world.

4. The Kingdom is Counterintuitive

From birth we have the way of the world ingrained in us. Have you ever spent much time around a small child and noticed the frequency of the word “mine”? If left on our own, the world would have us believe that we are entitled to whatever we want and when ever we want it. But again, the Lord’s prayer shapes us into putting others before ourselves, making God’s ways our ways; and this is a lifelong adjustment!

Indeed, the ways of God are quite often what we would not expect. C.S. Lewis sums up this counterintuitive-ness of Christianity:

“Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 7)

Think about it- so much of Jesus life and ministry goes against what would be our “natural” assumptions. The very son of God wasn’t born into nobility and privilege but rather, a barn. He didn’t choose the best and brightest as his disciples, he picked a rag-tag bunch blue-collar fisherman. Jesus didn’t make his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a warrior on a mighty steed, but a teacher on a donkey. Jesus conquered death by dying on a cross, the rising from the dead! Following Jesus has almost an annoying quality to it in that your instincts must be reversed. The first will be last, loving those who hate you, turning the other cheek, praying and giving offering not so others will be impressed but doing so in secret, and maybe worst of all Jesus tells us that its not enough just to refrain from doing certain things- that it’s the condition of our heart that matters! For example, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

So it’s not enough to just “not cheat” on your wife, you can’t even harbor lust in your heart even if you do manage to keep your pants on! To a pragmatic society- where the only thing that matters is results, Jesus tells us that it is also what motivations are behind the results that make the difference. Do you remember as a little kid, looking at acorns and wondering how they turned into a giant tree? Jesus employs this imagery to illustrate the counterintuitiveness of the Kingdom, as what was small and seemingly insignificant becomes mighty:

Matthew 13: 31 & 33 He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

Jesus turns all the worlds ways of assigning value upside down- as the citezens of the Kingdom of Heaven are outcasts from society: prostitutes, tax collectors, poor folks, the weak, the ignored, the marginalized, and the unimpressive, and most of all the humble. Once the disciples were arguing over who was the greatest in the Kingdom, and Jesus pointed out a little child:

Matthew 18: 1-4: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Although earlier I said even little ones may be selfish, one thing they are not is prideful. This humility is key in the Kingdom, a humility that calls us to get over ourselves and assimilate our instincts away from the world toward the Kingdom of God, a humility that is counterintuitive.

No comments: