I’d love to be able to blog more, but lately life as a teacher has been more than full. I have also been struggling with how worked up I get whenever I read the news. So recently, during Lent, I gave up news surfing and focused on the Gospels, on listening to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, and on being in the moment with whichever person I happen to be with (or nature, when I am alone in this beautiful corner of Australia.)
A group of young people on a hilltop on the Danthonia property, 2009.
During these last few weeks it struck me that this is a great way to push back against the excessive power of the media: to simply hit the off switch and look at life through my own eyes instead of through the myriad filters of agenda-driven sources.
And delving into the Gospels made me think about how to get my high-school students to read their Bibles more and think about what they are reading. So I assigned my senior class (“Year 12” in Australian) a paper on the meaning of the kingdom of God. Our course is called “Bible & Modern History” so these reports followed an exercise they did last fall examining the United States Republican and Democratic party platforms. The flavor is more of a world view, a political statement, than a Sunday school lesson.
While I don’t find much time to write personally, I give plenty of class time to my students, and would like to share excerpts from two of the papers they turned in. I was impressed by the thoughts that each students expressed, but these two reports were among several that I found quite heartfelt, going beyond just completing an assignment for class. Here's what they wrote:
Throughout the Gospels Jesus uses parables to illustrate greater concepts or themes. In Matthew Jesus tells the parable of the wedding feast, to which many people – the good and the bad – were invited. One man, however, refused to change into a wedding garment, and as a result was cast out into the darkness. This parable is an analogy of the kingdom of God. The man who refused to change into the wedding garments is symbolic of someone who is being called to follow Jesus but is not willing to repent and change his life. God does not force anyone to follow him, but because he is a God of love, he is ready to forgive as long as we are repentant and willing to forgive others.
Jesus makes it clear that if anyone wishes to enter God’s kingdom they must repent of their sins. Unless each of us is changed, we cannot truly serve Christ. Through baptism, sins are forgiven and a new life in Christ is given.
When God’s kingdom finally breaks into this world, we are promised that “all things will be made new.” We humans have no idea what the kingdom will actually be like. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Many people theorize about when the kingdom will come, but no one actually knows the time and date of this great day. In Acts Jesus tells His followers, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons….”
The parable of the sheep and goats that Jesus tells in Matthew illustrates the separation of good and evil which will take place when the kingdom comes. The sheep are those who did God’s will: giving food to those who were hungry, giving a drink to those who were thirsty, visiting the sick and those in prison, and clothing the naked. It seems they did not even realize they were serving the king when they did these deeds of kindness. Those on his left – the goats – are those who rejected God by rejecting their neighbor in need. Instead they pursued their selfish ambitions. “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In our world today there are seemingly unsolvable problems. Political parties claim to have the answers to these issues, but instead, things are only getting worse. Three significant problems in our society today are loneliness, selfishness, and poverty. If everyone started to seriously follow “kingdom laws” rather than trusting in political answers, these problems could be addressed and solved. Loneliness affects millions of people. Due to the abundance of technology, people are becoming increasingly isolated, and face-to-face encounters are being phased out by short texts and tweets. This problem will only be resolved when God’s kingdom comes, but we can work towards that day by helping to eliminate loneliness. If people started to follow kingdom laws like “Love your neighbor as yourself,” many problems could be easily solved. The church is challenged to “keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you yourselves were suffering.” If everyone started practicing this, real change would happen. I believe people would want to live in community – the best place to live out Jesus’ teachings in their truest form.
Selfishness is an issue which has been prevalent since the beginning of time. Every human deals with this problem and many seek their selfish desires which leads to many other problems such as divorce and family disintegration. In Philippians, Paul pleads with the church to do “nothing of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.” Emptying ourselves of selfishness takes serious effort, but we can only work towards the kingdom if we follow Jesus’ humble example.
There are millions of people in our world living in extreme poverty while others lavish in wealth. Political parties have tried to solve the issue of poverty, yet they have no workable solutions. If people obeyed Jesus’ words, the great divided between rich and poor would be nonexistent. He says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” This world could be a much better place if people would repent for their wrongdoings and live for Jesus. Ultimately this would lead to the advancement of God’s kingdom.
The question of who will enter the kingdom of God is an old one. It is a question numerous religious circles have discussed at length, and still have not found an answer to. What we do know, though, is that the kingdom of God will bring about a “regime change,” an overthrow of the current form of government and the status quo. Jesus points out that it will not be the proud or unrepentant who enter his kingdom. Rather it is those that become like little children; those who are poor in spirit; those who mourn or who are persecuted.
This standard may make the kingdom of heaven feel like an unreachable goal, yet Ernesto Cardenal, the famed Nicaraguan poet and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, once said, “God loves the man who is the dictator of Nicaragua, but he does not love him as the dictator of Nicaragua.” Many of us have the attributes of a dictator, and only if we are willing to lay down our pride, greed, selfishness, and idols can we enter the kingdom of heaven. Only if every person is willing to repent and give up all they have will God’s kingdom become a reachable goal. In that sense every one of the seven billion people on this earth is invited to join the wedding feast, but on the conditions of complete repentance and sacrifice to God’s will….
There are places in the Bible where Jesus says that God’s kingdom will come at God’s time. In that case, can people advance God’s kingdom at all? The short answer is no. We humans cannot advance in our own strength such an infinite spiritual force, but we can tell others of God’s coming kingdom so that his message can spread like yeast in bread. In this way others can ready themselves for the coming kingdom, since readiness is of great importance.
In the parable about a sower, Jesus points out that the seed only grows in fertile soil, not in shallow, hard, or weedy soil. This is an analogy to our hearts. If our hearts are not ready, God’s word and his kingdom cannot grow….
But the kingdom of God cannot simply be a topic for discussion. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is within each human, but the devil wants to suppress the good spirit in us. Consequently, it is up to each person to fight for the kingdom in their own heart, and make his heart ready for God’s coming kingdom. As Eberhard Arnold said in 1933: “To be ready is everything! Let us be ready! The expectation of God’s coming shall be our active readiness, so that we stretch out our hands to him, to be crucified with him; so that we are on our knees, ready to be humbled by him; so that we lay down all our power over ourselves, that he alone may have power over us.”Comments
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