“Jesus and ‘the Kingdom'”

April 29, 2018


Robin McGonigle
University Congregational Church
April 29, 2018

Jesus and ‘the Kingdom’
Mark 6:6-12

“On earth as it is in heaven.” Just what are we praying for when we say these words? “On earth as it is in heaven.”

The vision of Jesus was that the Kingdom of God – or the will of God – be done on earth as in heaven. The idea implies that heaven is in good shape but earth is problematic. When Jesus prayed, “on earth as it is in heaven,” he was specifically speaking about the situation of imperial domination and colonial exploitation in his homeland. And he set forth some pretty interesting and specific ideas for how people are to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth.

First, let’s discuss what the phrase “Kingdom of God” means. For Jesus it was an ideal vision of political and religious power. It was how this world would run if God – not people – were in charge. Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God focuses not just on personal or individual evil, but on systemic and structural evil.

John Dominic Crossan’s work is the primary resource I am using to talk this morning about the Kingdom of God. Our traditional word for today is Jesus’ instructions to the disciples about how they were to do their ministry. Consider what he says to them not only as instruction to them but also as Jesus’ instruction to each of us about how we are to live in and with the world.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

There are two different kinds of instruction in the Bible about the future time. There is apocalyptic eschatology – the thought that the evil they will be gone forever, and the holy we will be in charge under God. The book of Revelation is a good example of this instruction. There are modern equivalents of this kind of teaching – David Koresh of Waco, Texas; Jim Jones of Jonestown; and probably Warren Jeffs of prison.

The second kind of instruction in the Bible about the future is sapiential eschatology. Sapientia is the Latin word for wisdom. Sapiential eschatology is instruction on how to live here and now in the present so that God’s power is evident. Jesus was the ultimate example of sapiential eschatology – living in a way to show God to those around him. Ghandi of India living in absolute non-violence is another example.

In apocalyptic eschatology we are waiting for God to act; but in sapiential eschatology God is waiting for us to act. In apocalyptic eschatology there is private revelation announced secretly to the righteous. In sapiential eschatology there is public challenge announced openly to the courageous. John the Baptist preached apocalyptic eschatology. Jesus preached sapiential eschatology.

This is an important distinction when thinking about the teachings of Jesus on the Kingdom of God. When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was usually not speaking of what we have come to think of as heaven. He was giving wisdom instruction for living in the here and now. Today I want to talk about 5 aspects of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God and how they apply to our lives.

Eating. Jesus advocated an open table. This involves decisions about what we eat, where we eat, when we eat, and above all, with whom we eat. He instructed the disciples not to carry a bag because they were not to beg for food. They were to share their stories and in return they would receive a table and a house. This is critically important. It does not mean that we are to simply give away food to those who may be hungry. That is almsgiving. Jesus was advocating something even more radical – commensality. Commensality was a strategy for building or rebuilding peasant community on radically different principles. Sharing spiritual healing and eating was a reciprocal exchange.

What are the implications for today? We are not instructed to feel guilty about what we have that others don’t. Instead, we are instructed to invite others to our homes and our tables to share in our lives and to share their lives with us. It is a mutual giving and receiving.

Healing. There are numerous stories of Jesus healing people. But Jesus’ way of healing was to reintegrate the diseased person back into the community at large. Lepers, for example, were brought back inside the gates of the city instead of being banished to begging outside the city walls. Disease is the organic, physical ailment. Illness is the disease’s effect on patient, family, and community. Jesus advocated healing as addressing both the disease and the illness. Some of you may remember he movie Philadelphia, in which the main character had AIDS. The disease was the virus’s effect on the patient’s immune system and the consequent vulnerability to infection. The illness was the effect of the disease on the sufferer himself, on the spouse and family, on employers and job, and on society and jury. Although the man was not healed from the disease, he was healed from the illness. There are Hospice teams and hospice houses that provide this kind of healing. Our church is another community of people who offer healing in this form.

When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was advocating a new kind of living with one another. The Kingdom of God asks us to share our food and our lives with one another as healing. The Kingdom of God is evident when we are a healing presence to those with disease, offering healing for the separation they experience as a result of the disease.

Itinerancy. Jesus’ instructions to his followers were to be itinerant and totally dependent on the hospitality of others. This instruction was symbolic as well as literal. By advocating itinerancy, Jesus was rejecting the hierarchical system. Jesus and his followers are not to settle down in one place and establish a presence there so that people come to them. With a reputation like Jesus had, he could have easily set up residence in Jerusalem and hung a sign on his door – healer. People would have traveled to him and lined up at his door. If he had done that, his family and hometown would have received notoriety because of his work. Instead, Jesus traveled to those who needed him because he wanted to be a living example of what God intended. By being itinerant, he made himself available and accessible to all people everywhere.

By the way, this is what a good number of denominations ask of their clergy – to be available to go where they are needed when they are needed. It is a difficult choice to be itinerant. I would also note that even those of us who do not work in a denomination of itinerancy still have a sense of call that causes us to be available when and where we are needed – even when it is personally difficult to do so.

Gender. Jesus’ disciples were sent out in pairs. What you may not know is that these pairs were often one male and one female. The “Christian wife” referred to in I Corinthians is not an accurate translation. “Sister wife” is more descriptive of the women who traveled with a male disciple to teach. By sending such pairs, Jesus was making a statement about gender equality as well as showing a new paradigm for how men and women work together. Paul also wrote in Romans about ministry pairs – and sent his own disciples out as male and female together.

Dress. In our text for today, the disciples are instructed by Jesus not to take a “bag” or what we might call a “backpack” or a suitcase. They were to preach, in other words, by their deeds as much as by their words; by their dress and lifestyle as much as by their ideology and philosophy. Jesus asked his followers to carry no bag to symbolize their interactive dependency on those who received their message.
What do we pray for when we say “on earth as it is in heaven”? We are praying for some radical implications for our own lives…
… we are praying that the hungry and the lonely will be welcomed at our tables and that we will take responsibility for them.
… we are praying that we participate in the healing of disease and illness; that those who are alone or outcast because of their physical ailments will be reintegrated into our communities.
… we are praying that all of us become dependent on the hospitality of others.
… we are praying that people of all gender expressions will be welcomed and protected by others.
… we are acknowledging that we are dependent on others for basic needs.

I want to close with a question asked of John Dominic Crossan and his answer. The question was: “What do you think is most striking, appealing, or disturbing about Jesus?” In part, Crossan answered, “The Kingdom of God means for me the fabric of the universe; the only way it will work. It will not work any other way. Now behind that I begin to see something that terrifies me more than the Kingdom of God… which is the patience of God. I do not think that God intervenes in any sense, not because God could not; I make no such statement. God does not. And that frightens me more even that the radical justice of God. I am completely convinced that if we set out to destroy ourselves, God will not intervene to stop us, and God will settle eventually for the grass and the insects. That terrifies me.”

Jesus did not say, “I am the Kingdom of God”, or even “I bring the Kingdom of God”. Jesus taught us to pray, “On earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus taught us to bring about the Kingdom of God.