The perspective I’m working from says we have to live our lives, and we have to have something worth living for, and we have to help one another, and all others, live their lives and find something worth living for. We have to hold things together for ourselves, and we have to live in ways that we would be proud of, and we have to help others do the same. We have to solve the problem of food, clothing, and shelter, and we have to solve the problem of why solving the first problem is important. We have to solve the problem of the purpose of solving the problem of food, clothing and shelter; the problem of what is beyond food clothing and shelter; the problem of why bother. And, we have to help others solve both problems as well. That’s my perspective. That’s what it’s about from my point of view.
Now, there are perspectives all over the place out there. This is only one. Why should you prefer it over all the others? “Money is all that matters!” Why not go for the “money is all that matters” motive? “You only go around once—grab as much as you can!” Why not “grab as much as you can”? I don’t know if you have recently, or ever, tried to talk someone into or out of a perspective, but, if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to give it a whirl. Make a project of it. Reform your spouse or life partner, or a parent, or a child, or your neighbor next door, say, by dinner, tonight. Let me know how it goes.
One great way to NOT be the church as the church ought to be is to tell people they ought to do it the way you are doing it, the way we are doing it, and why. The way to be the church as the church ought to be the church is to do it the way you are doing it, and let them do it the way they are doing it. No kidding. The way you are doing it is enough. That is as reformative as you have to be. The way you are doing it, particularly, if you are truly doing it as it should be done, will eventually, have implications for the way it is being done around you. That’s when the stuff will hit the fan.
If John Dominic Crossan were talking to you, he would tell you that the Kingdom of God movement that Jesus created was a brand new thing in the realm of movements. It was launched in direct and intentional opposition to the “kingdom of god” that was Pax Romana. Rome had the monopoly on the phrase “kingdom of god,” and, of course, Rome meant the “kingdom of Caesar,” and, since Caesar was god, the “kingdom of God” would be thought of in Roman terms. Caesar was the savior of the world. Jesus deliberately comes up with a Kingdom Movement that was the opposite of Rome in every way.
“You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” Don’t take that to be only about Old Testament theology. “This is the way you see it being done, but this is the way it is to be done…” “This is the way Rome does it, but this is the way God would do it.” The Kingdom Movement is about doing it the way God would do it. It is about living our lives as God would live them in our place. And, we think, “Oh, we can’t do that. Are you crazy? We don’t have the almighty power of God at our disposal. Who can live like God when we aren’t God?” To which Jesus would say, “You can.” And then he would redefine God before our eyes. He would take that almighty, omnipotent, invincible stuff right off the table, and lay out there, a loaf of bread and a cup of wine.
And, if that doesn’t wake you up, if you still don’t get it, he would scootch over the bread and the cup, and he would plop onto the table the manger and the cross. And, if you still don’t get it, he would put on the table the Good Samaritan and the prodigal’s father. And, if you still don’t get it, he would sit on the table himself. And, if you still don’t get it, he would roll his eyes, slide everything into a knapsack, fold up the table, and walk away muttering to himself, shaking his head. It seems that not everyone is ready at the same time for the Kingdom Movement. It takes a while to be able to see what it is all about. And you can’t change a perspective before its time.
Fundamental to the Movement is the redefinition of God. Jesus’ God is not the warrior God of the Old Testament, and Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell, and George Bush, and the Book of Revelation. Jesus’ God is vulnerable and helpless and unrelenting, like yeast in the dough, or a seed in the earth, or a wheat plant which, in dying, produces more wheat than it ever could alive.
The signs of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus saw as already present in the world, were things like healing Presence, exemplified in transformations of body and spirit, and human equality, exemplified in sharing from the heart the things that matter, and radical non-violence, exemplified in the no staff, no sword, no purse directive. It was a stupid way to carry out a revolution. And, it was still standing when all things Roman had fallen away.
Jesus was the leader of a political, social, cultural, and religious revolution, the likes of which the world has never seen—and the foundation of which was a radically alternative perspective, which envisioned, and lived out of, a radically alternative reality. “You have heard it said, but I say unto you…” Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapters 5, 6, and 7) as a political, social, cultural, and religious manifesto. Jesus’ perspective is a threat to every perspective! Jesus’ perspective is a challenge to all perspectives! Jesus had a vision of how things are and ought to be, and lived out of it—without trying to talk anyone out of theirs and into his (“If you enter a village or a town and they don’t receive what you have to say,” he said, “walk on to the next village or town”).
Jesus’ vision was for those who had eyes to see and ears to hear. It was not for everyone. And, Jesus didn’t try to convince anyone that his was the right way to see and hear. He simply lived out of his vision before the people, and let the outcome be the outcome. The way he did it, eventually had implications for the way it was being done around him. That’s when the stuff hit the fan.
From Jesus on, there has been confusion among his followers, among his companions on the journey, on the way to seeing, hearing, knowing, understanding, and living as those who see, hear, know, and understand—there has been confusion about who God is and who we are to be. The term “kingdom of God” has been used in ways that are completely contrary to Jesus’ original depiction, namely a “kingdom without walls” (or geographical boundaries, or standing armies, or social programs, or a gross national product, etc.), a kingdom that is already, presently, right now, “cast upon the earth,” as a radically alternative reality to the kingdom of Rome, of Caesar, in particular, and to all of the kingdoms, and empires, and governments of the world, in general.
Those of you who know me, know I get a kick out of saying that Jesus hadn’t been dead fifteen minutes before everything he stood for changed. Two things in particular happened to transform Jesus’ message. The first is that a hierarchy was created. Peter became “the head of the church,” with “the twelve” following him in importance, and “the rest of the apostles” bringing up the rear. Jesus dies, and there is an immediate jockeying for position and power, with the idea of proximity to Jesus being the determining factor regarding who is “in” and who is “out.”
Peter is “in,” but he is not without his detractors. The gospels are written one to two generations after Jesus’ execution, and there it is “remembered” that Peter denied Jesus. Why was that important to be remembered, do you think? If Peter had been more popular, it could have easily been forgotten, or presented in a more favorable light. Thomas is just above Judas in the pecking order of importance, and is remembered to this day as “Doubting Thomas,” because of his insistence on seeing the risen Jesus. The disciples as a whole were said to be “doubtful” (actually it is said they didn’t believe the words of the women announcing Jesus’ resurrection), but only Thomas is singled out (by John) for shame and humiliation. What was it about Thomas that John didn’t like? And, speaking of John, he is the only gospel writer to talk of “the disciple that Jesus loved.” Now, who would that be? Himself? It wasn’t Peter or Thomas, of that we can be sure. But he is creating a foundation for himself by saying through all the ages, “Jesus loved me best!” The establishment of a hierarchy was the first thing that changed with Jesus’ death.
The second way Jesus’ message was changed after his death has to do with the orientation toward the future. Jesus had said, “Take no thought of tomorrow, but let today’s own trouble be sufficient for today” (or words to that effect). With Jesus’ death, the disciples began to talk about the immediate future as the time of Jesus’ return to set things right. The shift toward apocalypseticisim and the emphasis upon the coming “wrath of God” was a dramatic reversal of Jesus’ message of radical non-violence, and his imagery about the yeast in the dough and the seed in the earth. With Jesus, the present moment was the time in which his followers were to act to heal, create equality, and live non-violently in the service of the best that could be imagined here and now. Healing, equality, and non-violence were the hallmarks of Jesus’ idea of how it ought to be. Where did the book of Revelation come from? It came from the radical abandonment of what Jesus was all about.
Living in the moment to heal and create equality non-violently was not nearly as much fun as spinning fantasies about God coming “soon” to deliver destruction to the bad guys, right wrongs, and institute justice and peace forever. We tend to want a better deal than Jesus got. And, we tend to live in the service of what we want. It’s the story at the heart of the scriptures. God is not who we want God to be. And, we have yet to come to terms with that, face that, acknowledge that, turn from that, and take up the work of healing, equality, and non-violence, living as God would live in our place, here and now, in this moment and all moments flowing from this one.
But the option is always before us. And the hope is that we will wake up, and take each moment of our lives, and live there as Jesus would live there, as God would live there, and transform the world, one moment at a time.