It’s interesting in my journey for the longest time I felt it was important to gather facts. If I could collect enough data I would be like some Biblical processor, if someone asked me a question I was ready. The hard drive in my head would start up. The Intel processor would start whirling, searching to where I could spit out an answer. Enough right answers, the questioner would eventually give up and throw in the towel. I would win by technical knock-out.
The problem, no one was asking the questions to which I had answers for.
Be patient with regard to all that in your heart is still unresolved and try to love the questions themselves like closed parts and books written in an extremely foreign language. Do not seek for the moment of the answer because you would not be able to live through it. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will live thereafter and gradually without realizing it, one day, live your way into the answer. ( Rainer Maria Rilke )
John Dear, spent a year in small cell in an Irish Monastery searching the Gospels…He discovered Jesus only directly answered 3 of the 183 questions that he himself was asked in the four Gospels. And of the 3, one could be called a definitive answer which was, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
This is totally surprising to people like myself that have grown up assuming that the very job description of religion is to give people answers and to resolve peoples dilemmas. Apparently this is not Jesus understanding of the function of religion because he operates very differently. Jesus either keeps silent, as with Pilate (John 19:9), returns with another question, as with the coin of Caesar (Matthew 22:19), or gives an illustration, as with the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:1-30).
Jesus repositions us, he makes own our unconscious prejudices, breaks us out of our dualistic mind, he challenges our image of God and the world…he continually presents us with possibilities of new creation. He continually reveals through his words, and actions, the radical imagination of the Kingdom. Jesus does not usually wait for or expect specific answers. He hopes to call into the redemptive imagination of the Kingdom…a place that turns our world upside down.
He wants to be in relationship with a people, as a glimpse of the Kingdom captures people and the process of transformation begins…it transforms both people and their world. Jesus’ parables, riddles about the Kingdom reveal his method of encountering the depth of humanity…stirring heart, mind and soul. It becomes that precious pearl that we will sell everything for, just to hang on to it.
Jesus style of evangelism is almost the opposite of modern televangelism or even the mainline church approach of, “Dear Abby “, bits of inspiring advice and workable solutions for daily living. Jesus constant revelation of the Kingdom destabilizes the false assumptions on which the entire question or ones world view is built, such as when the rich young man questions Jesus about eternal life (Matthew 19:16-25)
Often we think good answers, facts, good researched information, or even a good sermon will transform peoples thinking and alter their world view. C.S. Lewis says this in his essay on Christian Apologetics in “God in the Dock.” He says, “ We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for a half an hour or so, but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as this situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible.” This is the final anemia of any religion based primarily on sermons rather than…Jesus and His Kingdom, that alter both relationships and life style.
Instead Jesus and the revelation of His Kingdom make us ask questions of ourselves, and the world around us…they unnerve us, and realign us. Jesus and the Spirit of God transform us. He leads us into an unfamiliar place and to a place of transformation, much more than taking us into any moral high ground or immediate certitude or ego superiority. We get a glimpse of this when Jesus encounters the Pharisees about to stone the adulteress, mysteriously he scribbles in the sand. Jesus and His Kingdom subvert up front our cultural and theological assumptions. Jesus and His Kingdom leave us betwixt and between, where God and grace can get at us, and where we are not at all in control.
The cliff edge of our anxiety about the future may indicate that God is calling us to a new and different level of faith. When we walk, praying for guidance, to the edge of all the light we have and breathlessly take the first step into the foggy mystery of the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: either God will provide us with something rock-solid to land on and stand on, or he will teach us how to fly.”(The Crime of Living Cautiously, 137)
I wonder why we have paid not paid more attention to Jesus and His Kingdom, rather than absolute answers that seem to give us a feeling of success and closure. All mystery, and any glimpse of redemptive imagination seems to have vanished…there is nothing that draws us into the reality of the Kingdom.
We have made Jesus a systematic theologian, who walked around teaching, dogma, denominational doctrine…instead of a pilgrim, and engaging transformer of heart and soul. Easy answers, instead of Jesus and his radical, scandalous unending Kingdom that is both here now and to come, allow us to try and change others instead of God trying to change us, and the world.
No where in the New Testament do I find where Jesus gave a 45 minute sermon. But these parables, riddles and puzzles seemed to open a door into a world that left people awe struck. Listen to these sound bytes from the gospels…
They were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this, a new teaching?”(Mark 1:27)
And many heard him and were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this, what is the wisdom given to him?”(Mark6:2)
And all were astonished at the majesty of God. (Luke9:43)
But marveling at his answer they were silent. (Luke22:26)
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew7:28)
Jesus repositions us, he makes own our unconscious prejudices, breaks us out of our dualistic mind, he challenges our image of God and the world…he continually presents us with possibilities of new creation.
An expert of the law stood up to test Jesus, asking what is needed to inherit eternal life. Jesus turns the table, you know the law…how do you read it? The protector of the law replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your strength, and with all, your mind, ’and‘, love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus answered, “Yah, your right…do this and you will live.”
But the expert of the law wanted to justify his interpretation of the law so he asked, “And who is my neighbor.”
Now comes, the parable, the riddle…a glimpse into the redemptive imagination of the Kingdom. It is the world turned upside down…the new creation. A pedestrian on route from Jerusalem is attacked and robbed by a gang of thugs. They strip and beat him and leave him for dead. A priest seeing the broken and beaten body in his lane of travel moves over to the other side of the road. So to a Levite, sees the dying man in his lane of traffic swerves into the other lane, passing the accident. Then, a Samaritan on route, and sees the broken body in his lane, stops and took pity on him. He bandaged the man’s wounds pouring on oil and wine. He then put the injured man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day the Samaritan took out two silver coins and gave them to the in keeper. “Look after him,’ he said, ‘when I return I will reimburse you for any extra expense you might have.”
Who are your neighbors? Jesus and the revelation of His Kingdom make us ask questions of ourselves, and the world around us…they unnerve us, and realign us. Jesus and the Spirit of God transform us.
What is this Kingdom where all barriers, borders, lines and pigeon holes are removed? What is this Kingdom where race, class, religion don’t matter…where your neighbor really is your neighbor. Your neighbor is anyone you meet on the road of life. Here is the redemptive imagination of Jesus, where all lines of separation are erased...the new creation of the Kingdom, of wholeness and healing of all humanity.
Jesus constantly reveals the Kingdom. He shows us what a good neighbor looks like…and who our neighbor is. Our neighbor is the person with whom we least like to identify ourselves. Nor is it someone who is like us, or whom we like. Rather our neighbor is a person in need, someone we encounter on the streets, and especially our downtrodden enemy and oppressor. In the Kingdom, Jesus and I are only who we are in relationship to the other, including the orphan, the widow, the homeless person in distress…and enemies.
Again, the Kingdom is like…a Father and two sons. The youngest son tired of life at home and seeks to strike off on his own. He comes before his Father and requests the inheritance owed to him. The youngest son packs his bags and with cash in hand heads off to a distant land. Before long his life is skidding out of control down a slippery slope. It comes to a crashing halt where he finds himself penniless, hungry, broken…rummaging for food in a pigpen. In a moment of nostalgia, he feels remorse and longs to be back with his Father and brother, even if it is to be nothing more than his Father’s servant.
Little does the son know that there was not a day that passed, where his Father did not walk out to the end of the drive way, looking off to the horizon, hoping to see His son? The young son gathers what strength he has left and stumbles and staggers towards home. In his heart, he says he will ask his Father for forgiveness, he has sinned against him. But, the Father seeing his young son staggering down the driveway runs towards his son, dancing like a mad man. Before the young son can utter a word his Father hugs and kisses him. The Father can not stop kissing him. The Father drapes his robe over him, and places the family ring on his finger. The Father calls for the servants to prepare a feast, an outrageous celebration for this son that was lost…but now found.
What is this Kingdom in which you can’t outspend your inheritance? What is this Kingdom in which the bank reserves of grace are as infinite as the universe? Who is the Father in this Kingdom whose forgiveness is this scandalous and freely given?
And again, the Kingdom is like…a King that wanted to through an extravagant feast. So he sends his son into the neighborhood with a guest list and invitations. The son later returns with invitations still in hand along with a list of excuses why the invited guests can’t make it. The King upset, sends his son our again, telling him to bring anyone and everyone he can find. The son heads to the countryside, back allies, gutters, ditches, skid row hotels…bringing everyone so the king’s table will be filled to overflowing.
What kind of Kingdom is this whose table seems to have endless and unlimited seating? What kind of Kingdom is this where the guest list seems as bizarre as the tea party in Alice in Wonderland…a collage of society’s misfits? How surprised will I be by who my dining companions are? Will I even be at the table?
There is a tragic and beautiful story from the early church about the hospitality of Polycarp, written shortly after the old mans execution sometime around 155 AD. A much revered bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, Polycarp was in his mid-80’s when he was arrested and executed in one of the long series of persecutions that besieged the Christian church over the first 300 years of its existence.
As the story is told in the ancient document, under torture a servant had betrayed Polycarp’s whereabouts to the Roman authorities and in time soldiers arrived at his door to arrest him.
As soon as he heard them arrive, he went down and chatted with them; and everyone there was struck by his age and his calmness, and surprised that the arrest of such an old man could be so urgent. In spite of the lateness of the hour he at once ordered them to be given all the food and drink they wanted; and then asked if he might be allowed an hour to pray undisturbed. When they consented, he got to his feet and prayed; so full of the grace of God, that two whole hours went by before he could bring himself to be silent again. All who heard him were struck with awe, and many of them began to regret this expedition against a man so old and saintly.
In his interpretation of the events, local artist James Nesbitt’s painting behind me reveals the redemptive imagination of Jesus and his Kingdom, set at the dinner table which has been offered to the arresting soldiers. While the 2nd Century account has the aged bishop in prayer during the meal, Nesbitt places Polycarp at the table with his captors, extending to them the sort of table hospitality which Jesus models throughout the gospels. Head lifted in laughter, Nesbitt’s Polycarp embodies a deeply challenging Christian truth: he is one who can not and will not confess any other Lord than Jesus, but he is also one who cannot do other than open his table to any and all, including those who would take his life.
The occasion for the hospitality offered by Polycarp to his captors is triggered by a betrayal by one of his own servants, and yet, as with the last supper, it becomes a meal which proclaims the deep liberation found only in Christ.
From James Nesbitt’s palette has come a most remarkable portrait of the truth – and cost – of liberation in Christ.
On every imaginable front Jesus is restoring every victim of a broken world. Jesus stories of the Kingdom invoked a radical energy for they announced as sure and certain what had been denied by careful conspiracy. The stories of the Kingdom were almost more radical than his actions, because the stories played out the implications of the harsh challenge and radical transformation at which his actions hinted. It was one thing to eat with outcasts, but it was far more radical to announce the distinctions between insiders and outsiders were null and void. It was one thing to heal and forgive, but quite another to announce that the conditions which made one sick and guilty were now irrelevant.
The stories of the Kingdom, like Jesus’ actions are earth shattering, open and inviting, they stir the heart, mind and soul…awakening us to the eternal and abundant life of the Kingdom. The Kingdom conjures a present and a future that had been closed off. They indicate infinite possibilities that had been defined as impossibilities.
More than ever as faith communities we need to grasp the reality of the Kingdom. Jesus in the opening chapters of the gospel of Mark comes announcing, “The Kingdom is near.” It is both present now, and in the future…as in the Lord’s Prayer, “Father your Kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.” And from Colossians chapter 1;
We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
This new covenant Jesus calls us to is, one of partners, heirs to the Kingdom. He beckons us co-creators to build his new creation to build his Kingdom here on earth…on the streets and in our neighborhoods, locally and globally. Jesus calls us to build his Kingdom, putting all the broken, dislocated pieces back together…in Christ everything is fixed and fitted back together in a vibrant harmony of abundant life for all.
The big question…we believe in the hope of a future Kingdom when we die, but do we believe in the “present“, reality of the Kingdom now … and are we building what Jesus imagined?
I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: "Look! Look! God has moved into the neighbourhood making his home with men and women! They're his people, he's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned continued, "Look! I'm making everything new. (Revelation 21:2-4)
As faith communities, when we embody and live out the reality of the Kingdom we are constantly pointing to the truth of the above revelation. Faith communities become that mysterious parable of Jesus…his Body…his word, his life, his hands and feet…moving into the neighbourhoods that surround us.