The kingdom of God is not systemic, it cannot be systematized. Theology can be systematic, but not the kingdom of God. Justice is not systemic. There can be no such thing as a just system, whether it’s a family, or a commune, or a school, or a government on the local, state, or federal level. One person’s good is another person’s evil; we have to give up this to have that; and the whole will suffer for the sake of the parts, or the parts will suffer for the sake of the whole; someone’s best interest will be sat aside for the sake of something, and justice will not be done. Life is not fair.
And yet, and yet, the kingdom of God is nothing if it is not the experience and expression of compassion and justice. And yet, and yet, the kingdom of God is not systemic. Injustice is systemic. It is the inescapable characteristic of systems to be unjust. Discompassion is systemic. It is the inescapable characteristic of systems to be discompassionate. “Don’t blame me, I just work here.” “You can’t fight City Hall.” The kingdom of God is not and cannot be systemic. It is, and can only be, episodic; sporadic; periodic; occasional; unpredictable, surprising; astounding; disconcerting; unnerving. Justice is episodic. Compassion is episodic. Justice and compassion can only happen here-and-now as a shock, to the system.
The kingdom of God is the experience and expression of compassion and justice within the normal operating structure of the systems of life. The kingdom of God brings life to life within the systems of life. We are to do justice, exhibit compassion, and walk humbly with God—within the structures of the culture; within the systems of life in the world of normal, apparent, reality. We are to bring justice and compassion to life in the world, to shock, amaze, and confound.
That is our work. That is the only work we have to do. It will always be our work. We can never create a system, or a structure, to do our work for us. We are responsible for bringing justice and compassion to life in the world. We can never tag out. The work is never done. We pick up our cross daily and take our place in the service of the one who is Christ and Lord. We continue the work of the one who is Christ and Lord, because the work is never done. The cross is the call to do justice, exhibit compassion, and walk humbly with God. As we take up that work, we become the Christ. The Christ is the one who does the work of the kingdom of God. The king of the kingdom is the servant of justice and compassion. As servants of justice and compassion, we become kings of the kingdom. But “king” is a chauvinistic term that leaves women wondering where and how they fit in. “King” and “kingdom” are terms that worked well given the low level of personal consciousness and awareness in Jesus’ day, but they are out of place in our day.
The term “kingdom of God” was coined to counter the idea of the “kingdoms of the world,” particularly the “kingdom of Rome” and the rule of Caesar. The “kingdom of God” was an alternative reality, like leaven in the dough, to be worked into the reality of life as we know it. The “kingdom of God” was the experience and expression of justice and compassion being worked into the experience of life as we know it. It was not a separate, competing, reality, like another, only better, kingdom of the world. It was, and is, an idea, a perspective, an orientation to the good, a way of being in the world. In a word, it is the experience and expression of justice and compassion.
Jesus talked about the kingdom of God and lived to exemplify it in his life and evoke it upon the earth, within the structure of the systems of the world. Jesus was the servant of the kingdom of God and served beautifully to redefine the Christ, the anointed one, who was to come and institute the kingdom of God. But, the kingdom of God is not an institution! This was Jesus’ particular genius. “My kingdom is not of this world.” Who would have thought it? And the Christ is not a king in the ordinary sense of the term, but anyone—everyone!—who takes up the work of bringing the kingdom into being, who takes up the work of being the servant of justice and compassion within the structures of life in the world.
So, we need new terms. Not “kingdom of God,” not “king.” I will substitute “way of God” and “sojourner” for them until a better idea comes along. The way of God is justice and compassion. Jesus was a vagrant “king,” an itinerate “king,” a “king” without a throne, or a castle, or a command center; a “king” among the people; a passerby, one of us, a sojourner on the way of God, on the way to God. So are we all. Amen. May it be so!