The cross and the kingdom

Daily Reading for September 14 • The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

If there is one fact about which New Testament scholars are agreed, it is that ‘the good news of the Kingdom of God’ was the heart of Jesus’ preaching. Take away the references to the Kingdom in the gospels, and there is no gospel at all. Yet it is common to hear what passes for Christianity preached without reference to the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God was a phrase with a history. It was the heart of the prophetic hope for a new age of justice and mercy when the earth would be filled with the glory of God and when all common things would be holy. It is a deeply Jewish hope, rooted in a Jewish understanding of God in history. Outside of this Jewish approach to history and the world, Jesus makes no kind of sense: this is why the anti-semitic strand of Christianity which blames the Jewish people for his death is so dangerously mistaken. More than any other figure Jesus vindicates and affirms the Jewish religious vision–the vision of spirit embodied and manifested within a community of men and women who seek justice and holiness together, and who realise that it is only within such a community of commitment that justice and holiness can ever be found. . . .

The cross and the Kingdom are intimately connected because the Kingdom of God can never come by gentle progress. Only by tribulation and crisis can the new world emerge from the ruins of the old. The cross stands as a perpetual symbol of the truth that the world system is organized against the Kingdom of God, and that religious powers are just as likely to resist its demands as are the political ones. . . . It was for judgement that Jesus came into the world. The gospel is itself a crisis, a dislocation of order. The language of the tradition is filled with words for change—the proclamation of the Day of the Lord, the descent of the New Jerusalem from heaven to earth, the call to repentance, to a total renewal of life. Redemption is a process which takes place within the framework of distress and chaos, the collapse of institutions and power structures, the disruption of earth and seas, the shaking of the powers of heaven, with people’s hearts failing them for fear. It is when such things occur that we are to lift up our heads because our liberation is near. It is against such a background of upheaval that we are called to ‘bear the cross.’

From We Preach Christ Crucified by Kenneth Leech. Copyright © 1994, 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

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