A while back, El Cabrero was challenged by a Goat Rope reader to write about five things I most admire about Jesus. This is the third installation. If this is your first visit, please click on the earlier posts.
The third thing I'm going to highlight is what could be called Jesus' program. He called it the Kingdom (Greek: basileia) of God. As the Gospel of Mark puts it,
Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.
Then as now, there was all kinds of debate on what the term meant. For John the Baptist and many others before and after, it was God's coming apocalyptic judgment of the world, a cataclysmic divine intervention in history. It seems that for Jesus, the Kingdom had a present as well as future aspect. At least in part, it was something not just to wait for but to do. The Kingdom is a verb...
As John Dominic Crossan wrote,
In the beginning was the performance; not the word alone, not the deed alone, but both, each indelibly marked with the other forever.
For Jesus, the Kingdom meant the rule of the God of justice and compassion. It was the opposite of the kingdom or empire of men which was based on state violence, political oppression, economic exploitation, and religiously sanctioned injustice.
In the reign of God, the poor were blessed and the rich were cursed (Luke, ch. 6); the first were last and the last were first; women, children, the unclean, the sick, the outcasts and sinners were welcome, while the self-righteous were self-excluded. Equality replaced hierarchy and service/mutual aid replaced domination.
Jesus taught a subversive wisdom that turned the world upside down. But it wasn't all teaching. Jesus and his followers, together and in pairs, would go from village to village in Galilee proclaiming and enacting the kingdom.
What did it look like? People ate together, sharing whatever they had. The hungry were fed. The sick, who were often considered to be ritually unclean and isolated, were healed. Whatever that meant physically, it meant they were once again included in the life of the community. Those believed to be possessed with evil spirits were exorcised and restored to mental health.
As Marcus Borg puts it,
...the kingdom of God referred to what life would be like on earth if God were king and the kingdoms of the world, the domination systems of the world, were not.
And it involved acting as if that were already the case.
Obviously, this could be dangerous even if we didn't know the rest of the story. It would be dangerous today. Jesus warned his disciples, "If you follow me, you carry a cross."
HUNGERING AND THIRSTING FOR WHAT IS RIGHT. Here's a piece on the right to organize by economist Dean Baker, who recently visited El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia.
GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR. There actually was a little in WV. When the Census Bureau released its annual report on poverty, income, and health coverage, it reported that the poverty rate here dropped. El Cabrero is still going through the data but it looks like poverty fell in WV at more than twice the rate than it did for the nation as a whole--.7 percent compared with .3 percent.
We're still very poor compared to the rest of the country and have lots of problems and work to do, but ingratitude is a sin. We just need to build on this progress in the future. And this is another reminder that the Chicken Littles of WV, who have made a business of saying that everything is all bad here all the time, are off. We are the Little Engine that Could.
COUNT THE COST. But when you look at what Census figures say about the nation as a whole, it's easy to see we have major problems. The slight drop in poverty at the national level still leaves us below where we were in 2001. There was a slight increase in median household income, although wages of year round individual workers actually declined. The big news is the jump in the number and percentage of the uninsured, which went up 5 percent to 47 million Americans or 12.3 percent. The number of uninsured children went up from 8 to 8.7 million or from 10. to 11.7 percent of all children.
Here's a summary statement from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
And by the way, the $720 million we are spending (or will spend) every day of the Iraq war would go a long way towards dealing with some of these problems.
WOE UNTO YOU in the Bush administration who want to make it harder for children to receive coverage from the Children's Health Insurance Program.
GOAT ROPE ADVISORY LEVEL: ELEVATED