“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Mark 10:44
Jesus described the dimensions of a realm that both thrilled and shocked his listeners, depending on their station in life.
It was unlike anything they had ever seen or heard before. In fact, the highly unconventional realm Jesus called the kingdom of God stood in stark contrast to everything his 1st-century audience associated with the social, political, and religious systems of their day — a distinction in some way still holds true.
What Jesus offered amounted to an inverted vision of reality, an image that reversed the basics of how things were but should be.
It was an about-face that simultaneously presented the outline of a new and better world while it condemned the injustices of the present order and those who maintained and profited by it. The one thing the kingdom Christ advocated did not do was to allow anyone to remain unchanged or unchallenged, for it addressed things that matter.
In this new kingdom that was dawning through the words and life of Jesus, there was a proclamation that the rules of the game were changing. In Christ, God was rewriting the manuscript to provide a happy and just conclusion. He was providing the means to “flip the script” by breaking the bonds that linked the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of darkness itself.
Hence, there would be a “new kid” on the block — the Holy Spirit — who would ensure God’s plan among humankind by changing the venue from an external set of legalistic codes to internal, heart knowledge-centered in divine presence. Kingdom knowledge flowed from a Spirit-written script of the heart, and it guided its bearers onto a stage where the liberating truth they shared often jeopardized their lives.
Those who had the most to lose from the old system based on the rotted fruit of fallen human nature most resisted the new order.
These such persons would end Jesus’ life, yet, in the redemptive power of God, Christ’s death instituted the very kingdom his killers resisted. It was not because he walked around saying I am God, that Jesus was crucified. But because his teaching, healing, and miracles “were a rearranging of social relationships and therefore of social order.”
Among the most threatening elements of social reordering that accompanied Jesus’ kingdom proclamation was a reversal in which those on the bottom would be elevated to the top, and vice versa (Matthew 19:30; 20:16). The scheme held out the hope of remediation for all the wrongs that power, greed, and hatred had created in the lives of the needy and powerless victims of the system.
But it would come at the cost of the privileges of those who benefited most from that system and society’s status quo. Like the rich young ruler who could not part with his wealth to follow Jesus (Luke 18:18–25), the gospel of the kingdom did not sound like “good news” to everyone — although it was in fact just that because it had the power to liberate one and all from the very things that oppressed them personally.
The Kingdom challenged everything in this world that restricts true freedom, whatever form that takes from one individual to another or one society to the next.
The gospel of the kingdom is not only the good news that God is for the poor and oppressed, but it is also the pronouncement that,” he is for humanity in our collective poverty, our ultimate powerlessness in the face of sin and death.” Thus, for many, it is good news in disguise, though none can recognize it as such without the enlightenment God alone provides.
Given the limits of human understanding, the most marvelous of kingdom inversions will seem odd and even menacing without the spiritual discernment to recognize their inherent goodness. This is especially true for the changeover from exclusion to inclusion which lies at the heart of the kingdom.
Fear and fallen human nature make it seem advantageous to retain exclusionary borders based on culture, politics, race, and other categories reflective of self-interest.
But the exclusionary fences and barriers humans construct around themselves and their domains are actually prisons that isolate and dehumanize the builders. The gospel of the kingdom breaks down every barrier that separates us from one another, which turns out to be the same barriers that separate us from God and our true self. We can find liberation in inclusion.
Along with the announcement that the kingdom would restructure the social, cultural, and natural order was the declaration that God’s moral order was very different than previously thought. In Christ, God was clearly revealing what had to date only been vaguely understood: that his ways were far above the ways of humankind.
In God’s economy (that is, God's mode of operating), we learn that victory emerges through apparent defeat. The cross, humankind’s ultimate implement of cruelty, oppression, and disgrace became God’s instrument of love, grace, and redemption. A ruthless symbol of inhumanity conceived by fallen human nature, the cross was transformed into a symbol of God’s loving restoration of his divine image in the whole created order.
The kingdom of God and its transformational ability was rooted in the cross and the resurrection power emanating through it. The new order God was instituting through the death and resurrection of Jesus meant everything had changed. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Grace replaced works and legalistic striving. Humility and faith exercised power over arrogance and self-reliance. Acceptance and forgiveness displaced rejection and resentment. Joy emerged from heartache and loss. Even cooperation took precedence over competition. Differences could now be seen for what they were — strengths, not threats.
The reactionary, confrontational, and condemning spirit that defined the old-world order was being forever displaced by God’s life-affirming, joy-enhancing, all-embracing kingdom reality. The source of enmity, our broken and dysfunctional human nature, had been fully repaired.
What looked like a kingdom inversion of the social and moral universe was in fact only the righting of what had gone askew from God’s original plan for humankind. Yet the kingdom not only represented a reemergence of the original plan, it improved upon it. Hence, God would not simply walk in our midst in the cool of the day, he would live within us and we in him in a wondrous world without end. May your life be so transformed that God’s love shines through you as the sunlight shines through stained glass, that through you the world might see that life doesn’t have to be confining and seen as a threat, but filled with joy, acceptance, and life affirming. I look forward to seeing you online or in person this Sunday, October 17, 2021, the 21st Sunday after Pentecost. Fr. Bill+