The Disruptive Kingdom of Jesus
These past couple of months, I have been listening to a podcast that goes through the entire Gospel of Matthew verse by verse.** The host has a Jewish background and gives some historical context to the scriptures in a new and different way than the way I’ve been taught about the stories I have read and known from my Western, Christian upbringing.
As this Advent Season is under way, awaiting the arrival of Jesus’ birth, I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on these stories of how Jesus taught and lived out the most important themes throughout His ministry. It seems like mercy, justice, love and forgiveness were central tenets of this new Kingdom that Jesus ushered in. In particular, Jesus most often interacted with and took care of those people who were invisible or on the fringes: the orphans, widows, outsiders, gentiles, or even those thought to be enemies. He constantly disrupted the status quo and took the disciples who followed him out of their comfort zone, acknowledging the “cost” of following him and the idea of laying down one’s life. Some examples include:
A Roman centurion (who would have been considered the oppressor or enemy to Jews), a demon possessed man who wandered a graveyard and couldn’t even be bound up by chains, a woman bleeding who shouldn’t have been allowed to be in public, lepers deemed unclean & living outside the city, tax collectors and other notorious sinners, and a Samaritan woman (who also would have been viewed as an enemy to the Jews)…the list goes on.
For many of his followers at the time, this idea of loving “enemies” would have been unthinkable. Why would Jesus, who was supposed to be the “Savior” and “Messiah” ending the centuries of oppression to set the Jewish people free, care so deeply about so many people who were not Jews, and many who were previously thought to be enemies? Because that’s the nature of who Jesus’ Kingdom is for, which he constantly spoke of was “at hand” or “available right now.”
In Matthew 6, Jesus challenges us to see other people with a good, healthy, or a generous eye: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” –Matthew 6:22-23
It’s easy to see the shadows in others, but Jesus calls us to not only view others in a good light, but to live that out in how we take care of them. Summed up, love God & love others. It seems to come back to the constant theme of mercy, justice, love and forgiveness. In a Kingdom where there is abundance and enough, it shouldn’t be as hard to be merciful, loving and generous. When I realize how much mercy, love, and grace that I HAVE BEEN SHOWN, only then can it spill out of me into others. But if we are living in an empire posture, where there is scarcity, we tend to worry about not having enough, and if that’s the case, it’s a lot harder for us to love the people around us and be generous to those on the outskirts.
In her book on Advent, Shadow & Light, Tsh Oxenreider aptly observed:
“The holiday season feels darker, heavier, and harder for those truly oppressed by circumstances that otherwise serve as sound bites for everyone else. We might know an orphan or widow, or we might know of someone who has experienced the disadvantages and loneliness of single parenthood, economic poverty, immigrant status, a taxing job, or having family living thousands of miles away…God does bring justice to the oppressed and strength to their hearts—and he often does this through other people. We can be those people. We can be a match to light a candle of hope for a neighbor this Advent season.”
I hope that this season is a time to pause, reflect, slow down, and soak in the significance of the birth of Jesus and how it changes everything. I also hope that we as a community can continue to stay in tune with the Holy Spirit so that we can live more fully into our identities, in this strange and disruptive Kingdom that is available for everyone. And in that process, I hope we are stirred and are able to humbly bring these gifts of mercy, justice, love and forgiveness to those around us, the same gifts Jesus brought to each of us when he ushered in the Good News of His Kingdom.
**BEMA Podcast by Brent Billings & Marty Solomon: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-bema-podcast/id1148115183?i=1000448555150