Another area of care one has to be intentional about is when someone feels the world is about to end or their hope is rooted in the world ending. These folks are not the best ones to come up with sustainable solutions that prevent the end of our world. In other words, people whose hope rests in the world burning make the worst environmentalists! Their worldview doesn’t enable and prepare them to see long-term solutions to the problems threatening humanity’s survival today.
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Simply put, Jesus followers today who believe Jesus’ taught the kingdom has arrived have fewer theological hurdles in their way to making our world a safer, just, more compassionate home for everyone here and now. I wish I had a nickel for every time a Christian has accused me of only arranging deck chairs on the Titanic whenever I speak on social justice or environmental justice issues. Just this past week, a friend of mine was lamenting online how everything in our world seems to be crumbling and coming apart. A Christian friend of theirs who was first to respond, commented, “As in the days of Noah.”
How does that help? Rather than a call to roll up one’s sleeves and go to work relieving the harm and suffering that the most vulnerable in our communities are going through (which would look a lot like the Jesus we encounter in the majority of the gospel stories), there is a sad resignation that world will just keep getting worse and worse and there’s nothing we can really do about it until Jesus shows up.
Really? There’s really nothing we can do? It sounds more like we want the world to get worse and worse when some among us believe Jesus can’t come back until it gets a lot worse. Are we listening to ourselves when we say things like this?
Suffering should move Jesus’ followers to action, like it moved our Jesus. It shouldn’t lead us to a passive, powerless resignation that this has all been foretold and there’s nothing we can do but wait and be prepared ourselves. In the stories, Jesus’ desire for his followers is that they join him in his work of making our world a better place here and now. He said it’s here. “The kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Luke 17:11)
Again, I understand how the Jesus movement became apocalyptic after Jesus’ death. I can see how Paul was apocalyptic. I can even see that John the Baptist was apocalyptic: he was looking for one “to come,” while Paul was looking for Jesus “to return.” But Jesus was announcing God’s just future had arrived! And if we lean into that version of Jesus in the Jesus story, it changes everything. It has for me. It has changed my focus from the future to the here and now. After all, didn’t Jesus say not to worry and be preoccupied about tomorrow, that “tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34)? He called his listeners to focus on today and the good they could do now. He called his followers to do whatever we can, big or small, to make our world a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, here and now.
When I go back and look at our parable in this light, I understand we must be prepared for the future, whatever it may hold. And the best way Jesus taught us to be prepared is to be about investing in each other, caring about each other, and doing what we can to promote the common good, today, here, now. People matter. The world is on fire. Will we pick up a pail of water to help put it out or will we stand back and simply view it all as unavoidable apocalypse?
To be clear, in the gospels, both a here- and-now, the “kingdom has arrived and is among you” Jesus and an apocalyptic, the “kingdom is coming” Jesus are portrayed because both matched an era of the early Jesus community. But a Jesus who taught us that God’s kingdom is already here for our participation seems to me to offer more life-giving options right now. A Jesus who only taught that hope was coming in the near future and that we must patiently, personally prepare for it doesn’t offer much hope for those who are suffering today and simply cannot wait. And for those who can choose a both/and approach, we must still be careful that our both/and approach doesn’t produce the fruit of apocalyptic passivity that ensures we have our own oil but doesn’t do much to make sure everyone else has the oil they need too.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.