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In Matthew’s gospel, we read,
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Matthew’s sermon on the mount calls the meek to imagine a world where they inherit the earth. It doesn’t assure them that they will go to heaven when they die. Nowhere in the Jesus story does he ever share a sound-bite presentation of the “gospel” or try to get people to say a special prayer so they can go to heaven when they die. Even in the book of Acts, the message is never that fear of post-mortem hell is motivation to follow Jesus. The message is a hope of injustice, oppression, and violence being righted on this earth. Matthew’s readers are called to pray that God’s just community would come and that justice would be established “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Jesus stood in the Hebrew prophetic justice tradtion: that tradition and hope was grounded here on earth with those who “hungered and thirsted” for things to be put right (see Matthew 5:6). In the stories, we see a Jesus who made people whole so that they could then go and make the world they called home whole too. Jesus’ focus was on creating a human community that practiced distributive justice, where together we have enough for each of us to thrive and live into our full humanity. (See Mark 10:21; Matthew 19:21; Luke 11:42; Luke 12:33; Luke 18:22; Luke 19:8)
Far too often, certain sectors of Christianity have preached a gospel of escaping our world instead of embracing Jesus’ call to reshape the world around us. As Brock and Parker explain:
“Popular forms of Christianity that embrace redemptive violence and look to heaven in a world to come have become a major public and political voice for Christianity in recent decades. Reiterating Christian perspectives that echo imperial Christianity, they bless conquest and colonization, privilege those with wealth and status, sanction war against ‘evildoers,’ and exploit the environment. The paradise they offer is on the other side of the end of the world. Their apocalyptic expectations imagine that God’s plan is to destroy this earth and rapture an elect few into heaven.” (Rita Nakashima Brock & Rebecca Parker, Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire, p. 378)
By contrast, Jesus’ teachings pointed toward personal and systemic change now, and making our communities a safe and just home for everyone. Jesus called for distributively just changes in this life and called his followers to share that focus.
We’ll consider this further, next.