Jesus Manifesto, by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, includes a chapter entitled “A Collision of Two Empires.” Some wonderfully provocative verbiage appears in this chapter. This is the second of two posts in which I’m sharing quotations. In this case, there is only a minimum of commentary.
It is a Christian’s fatal conceit to think he can bring in the kingdom. A careful reading of the Scriptures reveals that the kingdom is not something that we bring, or build, or cause, or create. The kingdom is a presence that we enter, a gem-like gift that we receive and treasure, a new creation that engulfs and embraces us. In other words, the kingdom of God is Jesus the Christ, and his righteousness. … 109-110
We find the current linkage of kingdom and justice problematic for a couple of reasons. First, the language of justice is the language of the prosecution. Operation Enduring Freedom, launched in 2001 to avenge 9/11, was first known by another name: Operation Infinite justice. The church now seems to have a similar name: Operation Justice.
When did the church become part of the prosecution and not the defense? 111
The early church was deeply ambivalent about whether a Christian could even serve as a judge without putting his soul in peril. A follower of Jesus seated on some elevated throne, dispensing justice, seems not to be in keeping with Jesus’ injunction “Judge not.” Christianity is rooted in a Passion narrative in which the worst was done not by wicked people, but by good people in cahoots with district attorneys and justice departments. Jesus was executed not by some frenzied mob or rogue justice, but by the best religion, the most powerful state, and the most perfect legal system, functioning as they were each designed to do. We are not sure that Rousseau was right when he said that the more you think, the less you feel. But we are sure that the more you judge, the less you love. 112
When we present ourselves before our Creator and Judge, it will not be “I’ve given my life to the struggle for justice. Now it’s my turn. Give it to me! Give me justice.” Any takers? 113
The kingdom of God is the reign of mercy and compassion and shalom (peace), which is about right relationships in the midst of all that brings suffering. Justice does not assume freedom from suffering. 116
When the church confronts moments of status confessionis, when the church must speak a “Thus says the Lord” on politics, the suffering will increase, not diminish. But these moments of status confessionis are rare. 117
Christians don’t follow Christianity. They follow Christ. Jesus believed that the purpose of the Law was to structure a way of living together that he called “love.” It is not law versus love. Rather, it is the law of love. 117-118
Christians have a lover’s quarrel with the world. Too many Christians want to change the world, not because they love the world but because they hate the world. 118
What if Jesus had given in to the devil’s temptations and accepted the riches, the kingdoms, the power? What would he have been today? A great king? A president? The head of the UN? Jesus’ revolution was not about politics. 119
As I re-read the above, I attempted to crystallize.
- We don’t bring the kingdom of God; we enter it.
- Of course we don’t persecute, and neither do we prosecute. Rather, we participate.
- We neither mete out justice nor determine its programs; we give allegiance to the Just One.
- We don’t adhere to any kind of system (or attempt to form a new system). Our role is to be loyal to the Messiah-King, pointing to His presence.
Hear Sweet and Viola once more:
We are the beginning of God’s kingdom that is already happening in the midst of the old order. If the church is operative properly in a given locality, the kingdom of God is seen. Justice, peace, love, mutual care, and giving, are made visible. Christ is seen on the earth again. 120