So Jesus was shaking up both the political and religious institutions of his day with this idea of the Kingdom of God. But what does that mean for us today, here and now, in the 21st century?
Now the essence of the Kingdom, Chilton says, is based on the community’s acceptance of the poor, the hungry, the bereaved, and the shunned. The Kingdom of God is in your midst, and he points out that this is so important, that in the phrase, “The Kingdom is among you,” the word “you’ is plural! (In Greek, hymon). The Kingdom is among all of you, among us, where two or three are gathered together. And of course that is taken from the Wisdom literature, that is Wisdom that shows up, Shekhinah, where two or three are gathered together.
But there’s been a tendency in the West to clean up, make more comfortable, this teaching, and so some people always want to stress “Oh, the Kingdom of God is within me.” Well, yes, it’s within us, but it’s us, more than just you and I as individuals.
Jesus thought in terms of community. Jews have always thought in terms of community. There’s a shadow side to that, of course, because it can tap into tribalism. And there’s a difference between tribalism and tribe. Tribe is a neat thing. You laugh together, share jokes together, play with language together, all those neat things you do in family and in tribe.
But when Tribe gets spelled with a capital T, when Tribe becomes an idol, we’re in trouble, because tribalism can be extremely fierce, and want to go to war with every other’s tribe. So again, Jesus was dancing that dance between tribalism and tribe. But always he comes back, “The Kingdom of God is within you, among you” – plural.
So it is community that is meant to bring about the Kingdom. And this is one more proof that the Kingdom of God is not about your getting to Heaven and crawling over everyone you can to get there. It’s not about that. It’s about bringing something into birth.
“In all Jesus’ teachings,” says Chilton, “no single concept is more important, more central, more resonant than the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God figures as a vital concept within the Scriptures of Israel.”
It is the fundamental energy behind all that is, the King of the Universe, you see. This taps into the whole idea of the Creator God, the Cosmic God, that’s holding the universe together within the order of justice. And that’s why bringing about the Kingdom is bringing about justice, because without justice the Kingdom is not sustainable.
So the first job of the King in Israel is justice, including eco-justice. I love to tell the story about how in Celtic Ireland in the ancient days, when the king was anointed he took a marriage vow to Mother Earth. His job was to preserve Mother Earth, because that’s the only way he could preserve the community. The community needs Mother Earth, especially in a place like Ireland – or Israel – where the soil is so shallow. So there’s a direct connection between God the Creator, and the Kingdom, and justice.
Jesus knew that! He saw it in the peasant farms where he grew up. He knew how much he had to be in love with the Earth to preserve the Earth and to get the results each season. Every small farmer knows that. There’s a relationship going on here, and it is about justice.
And that’s why the Jewish Bible talks about the Sabbath, letting the Earth rest once a week, letting the Earth and the animals rest a whole year, every seven years, with a Jubilee every 49 years to let everything rest and start your economics all over again.
So these are just a few examples of the teachings of Jesus as revolutionary, prophetic, at the edge. This is who Jesus is. Trying to sentimentalize him, turning him into Little Bo Peep, it’s an insult! Where is our outrage about that? If Jesus could get outraged about the religion of his day, why are we sleeping and becoming couch potatoes married to television instead of shaking things up?
Borg says, “Compassion for Jesus was political. He called for a politics of compassion.” Compassion is political, because it’s about justice in the Hebrew tradition. And justice is always political, because injustice is the fruit of egoistic politics, and it always needs shaking up.
It needs shaking up in our time especially, because the days are running out on us. The Earth is trying to tell us that it can’t endure this abuse much longer.
I believe the young are receiving special visions from Mother Earth today. They’re not visions about how to save the Church. They’re bigger than that. They’re visions about – to use the language I’ve been using here – about the Kingdom.
And you know, the Kingdom’s not the same thing as the Church. The Kingdom is where justice is happening, where compassion is happening, so it’s a verb. And Jesus is our inspiration.
But he’s left it to us, each of us individually, and all of us together, to get the job done.
How are we doing in taking up that challenge today?
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