Today is the day that many of us have been dreading. And, yes, many have been longing for it, counting down to it for the past months and years.
But the majority of my people, even folks who aren’t sure that they’re my people anymore given my theological and political leanings, are not happy about today’s inauguration. Trump brings too much brutality. Too much instability. Too much inability to tell the truth.
So what on earth could be the good news of inauguration day?
In short: the Kingdom of God has never come from the top down. It has always come from the bottom up.
Proclamation and Power
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Years ago N. T. Wright opened my eyes to the politically subversive potential of this seemingly innocuous sentence. You see, John was arrested by Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas, the would-be king of Israel, was relegated to the role of tetrarch. As such he had political authority over two regions that Herod the Great had formerly ruled: Idumea and Galilee.
It’s only when John has been incarcerated that Jesus begins his ministry. And he does so by going into the region of the person who has arrested his predecessor. More than this, Jesus goes into the region of the person who has arrested his predecessor in order to proclaim that the very thing Herod wanted, kingship, is arising in his midst. But Herod will not be wearing the crown.
At the very moment when it looks like Herod has ultimate power, the power over a man’s freedom, the power (as we will later discover) of life and death, Jesus steps on the scene to proclaim that a greater power is at work in the world.
It is not a power that comes into Galilee and Idumea and Judea from the top-down. The reign of God does not arrive in enthronements and inaugurations.
It is the power of a Spirit-anointed peasant king who brings near God’s own reign by radical acts of gathering, proclaiming, including, healing, exorcising, forgiving, and restoring.
The kingdom of God comes near at the very moment when the kingdom of the world looks to be most distant from God.
Today is the day that Trump takes his oath of office. I confess to my own expectations: I think that education, healthcare, the environment, incarceration, housing, our relationships with Europe, our relationships with Latin America, and corporate ownership of America will look less like God’s ideal, reconciled world in four years than they do today. I think Trump’s presidency will be bad for humans here in the U.S. and around the world.
But I take some courage in this: if the murderous machinations of Herod Antipas create the moment when the phrase “the reign of God has drawn near” could be proclaimed in truth by Jesus himself, then the moment when Donald Trump is enthroned in America can be the moment when “the reign of God has drawn near” can be proclaimed in truth by Jesus’s followers.
As in the first century, the truth of this proclamation will have to be shown in an uprising from below. It will have to be shown in people doing extraordinarily human acts. In such acts will we affirm and cultivate the full humanity of our neighbors. It might have to be shown in people laying down our lives in unexpected ways in order to bring life to our neighbors across the street, across the country, or across the globe.
But that is precisely how the kingdom of God works.
If there is a gift in this, what I see as a disastrous election for the good of humanity, it is in its power to shake progressive Christians to wakefulness. We got lulled by the embrace of Obama—a decent president who was never sufficiently held accountable for his bloody reign of drone-bomb terror, or his failure to support the human rights of Palestinians, or his failure to deconstruct the prison industrial complex.
We got starry eyed and began to believe that the reign of God could show itself from the top and wind its way down into all the nooks and crannies. As if the Herods and the Davids and the Reagans of the world were not enough to show us that a such trickle-down economics works neither in the economics of dollars nor in the economics of power nor in the economics of justice nor in the economics of freedom nor in the economics of peace.
We might have continued to believe this if the election had gone the other way. Despite the ownership of the Democratic Party by its own powerful interests, we might have continued to sleep.
So now here we are. Fully awake. Awake not only to what we are standing against but awake to the kinds of things we must do and the kinds of people we must be.
Can we be awake to the good news that the reign of God is as near, perhaps nearer, today? Can we be the means by which the kingship of God is put on display? Can we believe that we have received the same Spirit as Jesus received, and the authority that goes along with it?
Are we willing to repent of our aspirations to greatness? Can we entrust ourselves to the surprising appearance of the greatest power as it wells up from below?
I believe that the gospel is waiting for us today—if we have eyes to see it.