Understanding the Kingdom of God

“To obtain and possess the kingdoms of the world, with their power and glory, by violent injustice is to worship Satan. To obtain and possess the kingdom, the power, and the glory by nonviolent justice is to worship God.” “I glimpse again that biblical rhythm of expansion-and-contraction, assertion-and-subversion.” John Dominic Crossan

“The will of the Lord is not a static center drawing our souls blindly toward itself. It is a creative power, working everywhere, giving life and being and direction to all things, and above all forming and creating, in the midst of an old creation, a whole new world which is called the Kingdom of God.” Thomas Merton

The following written by The Rev. Canon Marianne Wells Borg Trinity Episcopal Church, Bend, Oregon

The Kingdom of Caesar

“The gospel of Mark was written right around the time of the destruction of the Temple by Roman rule.  This was the most devastating event in Jewish history since the  Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple some six centuries earlier. Mark was writing in a time of war.  The  followers of Jesus perceived this war as ultimately between two kingdoms.  The kingdom of God.  And the kingdom of Caesar. What was at stake was the future of the world.  Mark, by the way, expected a divine intervention.  He was mistaken.”

“A war between two kingdoms.  Calling the kingdom of God a kingdom is a bit misleading.  It’s not like hoping that God will occupy the Imperial throne.  As though the needed change was who was in charge of what already is.  As if putting “our guy” in charge would make all the difference.  The kingdom of God is something different from that. I suggest what is happening in the kingdom of God is the unconditional.  The unconditional. That’s what makes it worth its salt. Then how we see one another and treat one another and hope for one another is always made new. ”

“The kingdom of Caesar was hierarchical, top down,  an exploitive domination system.  Its design is transactional. It is all about quid pro quo.  And the rich will  get richer, (the “righteous” shall prosper is the conventional wisdom),  and the poor who weren’t allowed in the game anyway, will get poorer.  An old and tired trope I know.  But we are obviously not that tired of that trope.  The conventional way the world is ordered is still according to the kingdom of Caesar.”

“The kingdom of God is nothing like the kingdom of Caesar. It is a form of life. Structured in a way that honors the worth and value of everyone.  Everyone.  Unconditionally.  What kind of possibility is that?

What if everyone has a hope, a dream, a longing, a wounded heart, a restlessness,  a desire, an aspiration. And everyone wants to be seen, heard, cared for.  Everyone needs to be loved and needs to love. What do you think?   Would that warrant something unconditional to arise and meet them?  

Even the nobodies and outcasts.  The lowliest and the powerless. The  destitute and the criminal.  The enemy and the stranger. The  foreigner. The other. Do we really think everyone is of inestimable worth?  Are we being naïve about humanity?  Am I? Or do we not understand unconditional worth.”

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Jesus and the Kingdom by John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan
Emeritus Professor, DePaul University

The major issue for historical Jesus research, at the moment, for me, is how do you hold together, or reconcile, the emphasis on the presence of the kingdom and the future of the kingdom. How do you do it?  Because scholars will argue and I think, the general consensus is that Jesus talks about both. 

My way of doing it is always beginning with the present.  I think anyone should talk about the present before they talk about the future.  And as I understand what the historical Jesus is saying, he would represent (my language now) a paradigm shift in the traditional expectation of his own people. 

The traditional expectation in John the Baptist is a good example of it: is that any day now God is going to come transform the world from a place of oppression and injustice and violence and impurity into a place of purity and holiness.  And God’s going to do it. Now we can prepare for it, we can pray for it, we can hope for it, says John the Baptist, but God is going to do it.  It’s going to be an act of transcendental intervention. 

As I understand what Jesus is saying, within that tradition, but swerving within that tradition, Jesus is saying, no, the kingdom is already here, but only in so far as, you enter in it, take it upon you.  It is—my language now—a collaborative eschatology, and you can imagine somebody saying to Jesus, you mean God’s not going to do it all for us if we are just patient and holy and ready?  And Jesus would say, “No, that’s why nothing is happening.  You are waiting for God and God is waiting for you.”  And it’s like—now my language again—two people on a date waiting at different places, it’s never going to happen.  So, the person, I think, who best summarized in an aphorism the teaching of Jesus is Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said, “God without you won’t, you without God can’t.”  I think that is as good an aphorism, if I may put it this way, as good an aphorism as I’ve ever heard even from Jesus, and he is one of the great aphorists of the world!

The kingdom of God is here, and we’re called to participate in resurrection. https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/cover-cover/lessons-john-dominic-crossan

The Parables about the Kingdom of God

Matthew 19:23

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 16:19

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”

Mark 4:26-29

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”.

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:31-43

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

“I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.“As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

Matthew 13:47-52

 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.“Yes,” they replied. He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

Matthew 25:14-30

 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.  To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag,[a] each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

 “After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them.  The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

 “The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags.  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25:1-13

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them,The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ ‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’  But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

Matthew 22:1-14

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. And he sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.  The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come.  So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Matthew 13:24-30

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Matthew 20:1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.  He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing.  About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the  last ones hired and going on to the first.’

 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.  When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.  ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had, be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 19:14

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Mark 10:14

But when Jesus saw this, He was indignant and said to them, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Matthew 19:23-24

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 10:23

And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Luke 18:29-30

And He said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.”

Mark 4:30-34

And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.

Luke 8:10

And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.