I spoke with someone recently and they spoke with a sense of inner despair. It wasn’t overwhelming despair that brings you to your knees. It was sense that life wasn’t going in all the right directions; that they had lost control of things and felt drawn into a degree of chaos and continual stress. There were things around them that they had no control over and felt a sense of powerlessness. There were other things – an ill parent, kids struggling, feelings of dissatisfaction in work and a general busy-ness that pervaded life. Tiredness, weariness, stress and anxiety filled this person’s being. Underneath these feelings was a deep yearning, a deep hope for something more, something life-giving and hopeful that they couldn’t see.
Have you experienced a similar sense of frustration, a desire for something more, something different when confronted by the news of the day? Do the political shenanigans, corporate greed and violence of our society leave you yearning for something different? Do you feel somewhat helpless before the powers of the world and the events of life – your personal life and that of the world around?
It was into a world in flux and living under the weight of the most powerful empire the world had ever known that Jesus lived and grew. He experienced the power of Rome that dominated his world and controlled he and his people in the Jewish Homelands. He experienced the powers of the world that manipulated and controlled people’s lives, leaving many in poverty and desperate for their families.
He experienced the violent power that Rome used to control people and the greed and abuse of power that its governors and rulers in Provinces used over the people. Jesus also lived within a world that proclaimed the Roman Emperor as Divine and who worshipped Caesar as God. Augustus, the Emperor when Jesus was born, was deified, and revered as Saviour of the world, the one who brought peace to the world – the Pax Romana (Peace of Rome). It was a world vastly different but with similarities to our world. Powers ruled over the people and they felt powerless – much as we do. Even in a very democratic society, we feel powerless before the decisions of government or the power of corporations and large institutions. We have little influence and can often feel tossed about by the powerful who decide much on our behalf.
We feel anxious before the violence that seems to be perpetrated all around us and seems to hold the world in its grip. There is the arbitrary violence on the streets, the violence many experience within the home, the violence of language that belittles and abuses people. Of course we are aware of the violence of warfare. We have national days that remind us of the hellish nature of war and we remember the stories of men and women who have sacrificed everything for peace and cry out their desperate warnings to seek peaceful solutions in our world – but still the powers that be use military might to resolve all manner of conflicts. There is the violence of poverty that holds billions of people in its grip and we look on relatively helpless.
These issues are not new, they just have a modern face and we are the ones who feel the yearning and desire for something else. These were the sorts of issues confronting Jesus and they were behind his proclamation that God’s Reign is here! In a world where the Empire (of Rome) controlled so much, Jesus proclaimed God’s alternative vision for the world. In the face of gross injustice, exclusion, poverty, greed and violence, Jesus spoke of God’s Reign of love!
The alternative Kingdom/Realm of God of which Jesus spoke stood in contrast to Rome’s Empire of power and might over people. God’s Reign is grounded in love and justice! There is room for everyone and everyone has a place, a role that is valued and we discover the best within ourselves and are empowered to become who we can be! This Realm is inclusive of all people, accepting each of us as we are and calling out of us the deeper truth and reality of who we are and can be.
The Realm of God is built upon peace and reconciliation. It understands that peace takes courage, time and energy. It requires that we confront prejudice and fear and listen with respect to those who have a different perspective or opinion. Perhaps the ‘truth’ is deeper than either party recognises, and we each contribute elements of truth? Therefore, the Realm of God is non-violent! God is not violent and opposes violence in the world. None of this means that the realm of God is typified by those who are weak and timid. In fact to live non-violently and to seek peace takes great courage and inner strength. So much violence is cowardly as people stand behind weapons or ‘surprise’, military might, destroying enemies rather than confront them in person. When the Realm of God stands against the powers of the world it does so non-violently. It absorbs hatred, abuse and violence and stands firm in tough love.
The Realm of God is communal and it is in this community that we experience the liberating power of hope and love. The community stands together and draws strength and encouragement to live as God’s people against those who choose greed, injustice and violence. This is gracious community in which each person is welcomed, whoever they are, whatever they think or feel or experience. It is a place where we can feel safe to become our truer selves and to encourage each other in grace and love. We work together for the common good beyond us, for justice, peace and the liberation of all people. We seek and appreciate the beauty of the world around us. In the wonders that are present within the natural world we experience the Sacred, the mystery and wonder of God. Within the beauty and wonder of relationships, shared meals and common life we experience the presence of God who holds all things and people together. We wonder, together, why we waste so much time despairing what might be and energy on sustaining conflicts when life is meant to be lived.
This Realm of God is a subversive Realm that threatens the powers of the world around who want to control things and maintain a status quo that isn’t fair or right. This Realm is a constant power of love that threatens to transform the world through the power of people working together in the Spirit of God for love, justice, peace and common well-being!