It didn’t take his followers fifteen minutes to transform Jesus’ message and mission from a way of being in the to world to a way of escaping from the world, and escaping the “wrath of God” that was about to be visited upon the world. Jesus’ images of leaven in the dough, seeds in the earth, salt of the earth, light in the darkness were about carrying life out in the world as sojourners on the way of God. But with his death, the apostles changed the focus from living aligned with the Way, to believing in Jesus and looking forward to his return when he would demolish the forces of Caesar and Satan and establish—institute—the long-awaited rule of God upon the earth. Jesus had worked to redefine the king and the kingdom, but his followers refused to follow, and used stories about Jesus’ resurrection to further their own cause in the service of the old apocalyptic vision and the end of time. “He’s coming! You better be ready! You better do what we say!” Fear is better than sex when it comes to capturing an audience and taking them where you want them to go.
Of course, the apostles were sincere. Of course, they really believed that Jesus was coming back any day now to destroy the Romans, right wrongs, reverse fortunes, and bring forth the kingdom of goodness and light. And, of course, they missed the point.
The point is that there is no end in sight. There is no Messiah, there is no Christ, there is no Lord in the sense of the One Who Is Coming to deliver us from our enemies, save us from our problems, and make things just grand. The point is that This Is It. What are we going to do about it?
Jesus’ genius was the leaven in the dough, seeds in the earth, salt of the earth, light in the darkness angle. The Way of God is right here, right now, it’s only a matter of having eyes that see and ears that hear. In other words, it is only a matter of perspective. We can live right now as sojourners on the Way of God. We don’t have to wait for the Messiah! We ARE the Messiah! WE are the Christ! The Messiah, the Christ, is nothing if not a servant of the Way of God; an emissary of the Way of God; a champion, you might say, of the Way of God upon the earth. And, that is characteristic of everyone who takes up the Way.
In living as God would live right here, right now, we bring forth the Way of God; we unveil the Way of God; we produce the Way of God, and make it visible, tangible, real upon the earth. That’s all there is to it. No Horsemen of the Apocalypse. No angelic battalions descending from the sky. No final combat between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. No Great Beast to defeat and destroy. Just this moment, right here, right now, and the next one, and the one after that, through the long string of moments flowing from this one, and the opportunity to live in each one as God would live in them, bringing justice and compassion to life; bringing hope and life to life; being sources of goodness and light and peace upon the earth, in the individual moments of our living.
That’s the vision of Jesus, and it won’t sell. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God—for yours is the Way of God—because, what do you have to lose?” That song won’t play to the poor. They have being not-poor in mind. Not the Way of God. Good news to the poor is not that they have an easy walk into the Way of God because they don’t have anything to lose, because they don’t have anything standing in their way. Good news to the poor is all the food they can eat, and all the wine they can drink, and all the TV they can watch, in the finest house they can imagine—the splendors, say, of their heavenly reward; their just compensation for being so miserable in this life. You talk to them like that and you have their full attention, and whatever coins they can spare, as an investment, you know, a stake in the glory that is coming.
Give it to the apostles. They took a production that had run its course, and turned it into the longest running show on Broadway. “From Leaven to Heaven”—an overnight sensation, and still going, still going, forever. “From Rags to Riches” is an eternal theme that will always pull them in. It’s exactly what we want to hear. And, it’s a far cry from the insight of the itinerate Jewish peasant from Galilee.