But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
To the earliest Christian community, the cross was not just a symbol – it was an ever-present death device of cruelest torture. It came to mean for them, though, sacrifice and love and suffering and dying-to-death and the greatest act of love. To the early Christian communities, the cross was a way of co-opting the empire’s tools and using them against it – declaring an anti-Empire, a Kingdom of Heaven, present but not yet fulfilled. This faith community had turned the strength of the Empire – fear and subjugation – on its ugly head.
This is what Jesus called the Kingdom of Heaven (alternately, Kingdom of God). Whereas Rome sought “peace” by war, Jesus sought it by creating it through workers of peace. Whereas Rome had no mercy for the poor and meek, Jesus saw them as cornerstones and royalty within his Kingdom. The Kingdom is subversive to the ways of the world: greed, war, destruction, male and white dominance, tribalism. It overcomes them by way of resistive love.
Christendom, on the other hand, is Dominionism, with a capital Control. It is the co-option of subversiveness. It’s The Family. It’s the Moral Majority and the Religious Right. It’s Michele Bachmann. It’s Texas Governor Rick Perry cutting tens of thousands of jobs and slashing millions from Medicare while claiming that it’s God’s will. It’s putting bible verses on weapons. It’s the neo-Crusades making their way through oil-rich Muslim-dominated lands. It’s the continual envisioning of women and non-whites as inferior creatures. It’s using beliefs about sexuality as a way to hurt other people in the public sphere who do no harm. It’s blaming the poor for their problems and turning them against each other. It’s the Inquisition, the Reformation Wars, the Crusades, the Conquistadors.
Christendom is the things of the world wrapped up in the *image* of the cross. Their appropriation of the cross is a banner, a flag, a usurping of the vocabulary of the Prince of Peace to serve the interests of those which the prophets have resisted and questioned. In Christendom, the cross, and the banner of the cross, is equal to – or even submissive to – the national flag. It does not side with the subjugated sinners and publicans, but with the empire and its players. It doesn’t free tax collectors from their own slavish corruption, but empowers them to do evil for the state – as long as the state serves their “Christian” purposes.
It’s okay, for instance, for a nation to wage war on another nation and murder hundreds of thousands of civilians as long as the leader of the first nation is a God-fearin’ and prayin’ Christian and the second nation is filled with idolatrous heathens.
But that’s not the way of the cross; it’s not the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was inaugurated with this word:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4: 18-19
and Isaiah 61:1-2, NLT)
The Kingdom was personified through Jesus’ ministry. Through renewed eyes for the blind, aid to the hurt, food for the starving, legs for the lame. It releases the captives and proclaims favors on the poor, meek, humble, hungry…
The Kingdom of God, unlike Christendom, does not seek political dominion, because it has no interest in ruling over others. The Kingdom of God seeks to serve, to restore, to redeem, to heal, and to rescue.
THAT’S the difference.
Thanks to Jason for this guest piece. His “in your face” yet inspiring style always makes me think…