A Kingdom for Faint Hearts
"The kingdom of God is for the gullible," I read recently. "You enter by putting an end to all your questions."
It is true that Jesus moved all over Judea pronouncing the reign of God and the kingdom of heaven as if it were a notion he wanted the simplest soul to get his mind around. But simplicity never seemed what crowds walked away with. With looming paradox in every statement, he made it clear that this kingdom was approaching, that it was here, that it was among us, that they needed to enter it, that they need to wait for it, that they desperately need the one who reigns within it. He insisted, the kingdom "has come near you" (Luke 10:9). Yet he pled to the Father, "Thy kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10). Even in his metaphors, the contrast of so many different and dynamic realities turned the clarity of any individual picture into a great and ambiguous portrait. He assigned the kingdom imagery such as a mustard seed, a treasure in a field, a great banquet, yeast and pearls, among others.
Odilon Redon, Portrait of Genevieve de Gonet as a Child, pastel and paper, 1907.
Contrary to putting an end to one's questions with a childish simplicity, the kingdom of God incites inquiry all the more. What is the nature of this kingdom? Can it be all of these things? Who is this messenger? And what kind of proclamation requires the herald to pour out his very life to tell it? Whatever this kingdom is, it unmistakably introduces to a world far different from the one around us, one we cannot quite get our minds around, with tensions and dynamisms reminiscent of the promise of God to answer our cries "with great and unsearchable things you do not know."(1) But one thing it absolutely does not do is ask us to stop thinking or to stop trying to reconcile this curious kingdom Jesus describes with the curious world around us. His is certainly a kingdom that challenges any sort of thoughtless, gullible obedience, that compels not blindness or gullibility but sight. It is a kingdom with a king whose very authority exposes present obsessions as wood and reforms numbed minds with great and surprising reversals of life as a gift.
Jesus pointed crowds to a God who opens the eyes of the blind and raises the dead, who claims the last will be the first and the servant is the greatest. But lest we are tempted to leave his statements as hopeful moralisms, his proclamations did not cease with mere words. He put these claims into equally curious action, placing this kingdom before the crowds in such a way that would have absolutely stymied contemporary attempts to dismiss his life as mere religion, abstraction, gullibility, or sentimentality. Even his opposition saw him as a certain and credible threat to their own power and authority:
"Then the whole assembly rose and led Jesus off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, 'We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king.'
So Pilate asked Jesus, 'Are you the king of the Jews?'
'Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied.
Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, 'I find no basis for a charge against this man.'
But they insisted, 'He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here...' So with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed."(2) The way of proclamation led to the way of the passion, the path of commotion to the path of accusation, a road strewn with signs of the authority of another kingdom to a road that demanded death and mocked a king.
It is tempting to lose sight of this revolutionary figure in the sentimentalism of Christmas manger scenes and familiar carols. And yet this is the child born into our world: one who is still subverting nations and threatening our every sense of authority. The kingdom he proclaimed in birth and in death mercifully continues to unravel our own. His is not a kingdom for the gullible, nor for the faint of heart and sight. Yet, both heart and sight he provides for the weary, taking us beyond familiar borders of the world we know to the very threshold of the good and hopeful kingdom of God, where in both our longing to see in fullness and in our relishing here and now, we discover the one who reigns.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Jeremiah 33:3.
(2) Luke 23:1-23, emphasis mine.