Throughout Christian history, God’s kingdom or, my preference, kin_dom, has been at the heart of the vocation to spread the faith, to evangelize, “to make” Christians. “Fishing for people” is a powerful image that has formed and framed much of the church’s self-understanding as a body of believers convinced of the cosmic proportion and universal import of its cause (after all, it’s about God and eternal life!) and, therefore, committed to calling others to embrace those beliefs. Though an oversimplified view of 2000 years of Christian missiology, nevertheless, it seems to me that the church, facing a world of many peoples, often has engaged in evangelistic efforts and battles of belief, which, in their fervor, at times ferocity have lacked the character of justice and compassion.
Today’s global conflicts along and across ideological and religious lines, bid that I look afresh at this central Christian concept, one at the heart of Jesus’ preaching (and one, which I, as a Jesus-follower hold dear): “The kingdom of God has come near…”
Not in faraway heaven, but here!
A community of justice. Not in eternity, but now!
A community of compassion. Not in an after (post-earthly) life, but today!
As I reconsider this good news of the kingdom, I perceive that it is not about salvation from eternal death to eternal life. This, I think, is what the church in its historical development has made of Jesus’ message. Rather as I hear the proclamation of the good news of the kingdom, it is about salvation from separation and isolation. Said another way, the kingdom-proclamation is less a call to adopt a set of beliefs and more an invitation to be in community. An invitation to live into the paradox that one might become more fully one’s self in the company of other fellow wanderers and wonderers, strivers and strugglers. An invitation to share in the search for this life’s meaning. (If there is an afterlife, I trust it will be there when I get there!) An invitation to live justly with compassion one with another. An invitation to carry that message, indeed, to live a life of justice and compassion in the wider world of the countless communities where peoples live and move and have their beings.
If (amazing to me how the vastness of life’s ever-present conditionality can be condensed into a tiny two-letter word!) I accept this invitation, a tension naturally, immediately arises: I want justice and compassion, indeed, I want to be just and compassionate, but I fear that I won’t find it, either in the world or in me. My fear notwithstanding, rather than my scanning the heavens (which is a metaphor for gazing anywhere and everywhere else), let me continue look to this world and in myself for these signs that God’s kingdom truly is at hand.