Jesus’ Dream Rev Dr Durrell Watkins To what can we compare the kin-dom of God? That is a profound question; it actually frames the heart of Jesus’ message. Jesus’ radical message was about the kin-dom of God. He wasn’t trying to achieve fame or glorify himself. His ministry was much more relevant, much more subversive, […]
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
To what can we compare the kin-dom of God?
That is a profound question; it actually frames the heart of Jesus’ message.
Jesus’ radical message was about the kin-dom of God. He wasn’t trying to achieve fame or glorify himself. His ministry was much more relevant, much more subversive, much more threatening than simply claiming to be a special child of God. His message was that we are all children of God, and as such, we should work together to change the world.
In Jesus’ day, the world wasn’t a safe place. The Emperor ruled most of the known world. He ruled as an absolute sovereign. Lives could be ended with a single word from him.
The elite held slaves. The poor were reduced to begging, or prostitution, or slavery. There were charities, of course, but they weren’t enough to end hunger or illness. Charities without the help of government, families, education, and law are never enough.
Sedition was a capital offense. Speaking against the empire, dreaming out loud about resisting the empire, or even slaves attempting to run away from imperial overlords were all capital crimes. Punishment usually came in the most horrific of ways. Crucifixion was about the most brutal, most sadistic, cruelest of the ways people were executed. It tortured the convict and terrorized any future dissidents who were considering defying Rome.
Medicine was crude, as much superstition as science. And if one wasn’t killed by war, the conditions of slavery, poverty, disease, or execution, and if one had adequate shelter, good hygiene, and plenty of food, one might live to the ripe old age of 40. Since most people didn’t have those optimal conditions, 25-30 was a more likely expiration date.
In addition to this hard world, society itself was segregated. Women had almost no rights; children even fewer. The rich and the poor didn’t mingle, except for the poor serving the rich. People were divided by clan, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, and class; and crossing those boundaries was generally frowned upon.
This was the world Jesus knew: a world of segregation, violence, poverty, short life-spans, and cruel governments. But as a healer, a visionary, and a prophet, Jesus dared to imagine a better world. The world of Jesus’ imagining was one where every person had sacred value, where the hungry were fed, the sick were comforted, the untouchable would be lovingly embraced, and where people crossed socially and culturally drawn lines of division. In Jesus’ ideal world, the so-called least of these would be affirmed, prisoners would be visited, the lonely would be encouraged, and every person would know that God is the omnipresent Spirit of Life, so every person can commune with this Spirit personally.
Jesus was happy to teach people, encourage people, try to heal people, but he wanted them to experience the divine Power within them for themselves.
Of course, about 70 years after Jesus’ lifetime, the writer of John’s gospel imagines Jesus saying, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to God except through me.” That verse appears only once in the whole bible, and yet it is quoted quite out of context and usually to suggest a Christian superiority.
The very phrase seems to contradict the more accessible, humble Jesus of the synoptic gospels (who said, “Why do you call me good; only God is good); but John’s community would have understood that they were to identify with the protagonist of John’s story. So when Jesus says, “I am the way,” the hearers were each to say themselves, “That’s right, I am the way…I must experience God for myself, there is no other way, I can only commune with God as myself, knowing myself to be a child of God.” John’s Jesus isn’t trying to be elevated to an imaginary throne; he’s trying to get all people to know who they really are. They are children of God, people of spiritual power, keepers of a divine dream.
The world was tough, and Jesus wanted to empower people to dream of a better world, and work to make the dream come true. This better world he called the kin-dom of God. Actually, the word in the gospels attributed to Jesus is the Greek word for Empire. Jesus was preaching about God’s empire, over against the Roman empire. And God’s empire is an anti-empire, a counter-kingdom, a non-monarchy. The utopian divine empire Jesus dreamed of was an empire where we aren’t ruled by Caesar, or a state religion, or an army, but by the triumvirate of hope, peace, and compassion.
In the divine anti-empire, the counter-kingdom, there are not privileged classes: the first are last and the last are first, the untouchables are touched, the hungry are fed, the sick are comforted, the prisoners are visited, the children are protected, the women have voice, the slaves are set free, and each person knows herself to be a child of God.
This is the anti-empire, the kin-dom of God; and that is the vision that Jesus so courageously and passionately shared. If that vision were to take hold, then the Roman empire and all totalitarian regimes and all superpower governments would be rendered obsolete. We’re starting to see why he was viewed as a threat and killed as a revolutionary.
He wasn’t killed to make us okay; he was killed for daring to believe that we are already okay; we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. The power keepers weren’t keeping their power if that message became too popular; in fact, the power keepers don’t like that message still. Fear mongering just can’t work if we believe that we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!
Jesus was killed because he shared a divine vision of how life could be, and those who would have lost their dominance over others tried to kill that message by wiping out the messenger. But how can you wipe out God’s kin-dom?
The cross didn’t work. The cross wasn’t the result of God requiring human torture; the cross is a reminder that God is greater than human injustice. The cross doesn’t represent God’s plan; it represents Oppression’s failure. It didn’t silence Jesus’ message nor did it destroy the movement he inspired. The vision and the hope of God’s kin-dom survived.
Sadly, the vision hasn’t been fully realized yet, but the vision still lives. And that brings us back to Jesus’ question: to what shall we compare the kin-dom of God? It’s like a mustard seed.
You see, a small seed contains great possibilities. A tiny seed contains abundant life, and when that life takes root, it miraculously expands and grows into something bigger, better, more productive than that tiny seed seemed able to produce.
We may feel small, insignificant, overwhelmed; but within us is a great dream, a divine life, a wealth of possibilities. God’s anti-empire may not be manifest in our world yet, but the dream of it still lives within us. And we can let it take root and grow and flower. We can usher in a new world. The kin-dom of God may always be a work in progress, but we can make it a little more real day by day, year by year.
We don’t have a cure for AIDS yet, but we are closer than ever before. We don’t have world peace yet, but we can pray for it, work for it, believe in it, insist upon it, and keep the dream of it alive.
Marriage equality isn’t a universal reality yet, but more same-gender loving couples enjoy legal marriage in the world than at any point in history and that’s the kin-dom of God breaking through!
People are still targeted because of their race, men still try to colonize women’s bodies, the inequality of incarceration is our country’s great shame, the environment is under attack, and far too many people lack the food and shelter they need.
But the dream still lives. The seed still contains abundant life ready to spring forth. Jesus’ dream of a world that looks like God would have it is still in us. And we can continue to work together to give greater expression to that dream. We can be the dreamers that dream the dream into reality, or at least, usher the reality closer than it’s ever been.
Jesus lived for that dream. He died for that dream. And the stories of resurrection tell us that the dream could not be killed. We are now Christ in the world, the resurrected and returned body of Christ, and our job is to keep dreaming of and hoping for and working toward God’s kin-dom: a world of peace and plenty, joy and justice, hope and healing.
Will you dream Jesus’ dream with me?
Can you let yourself dream of every person finding a descent job, and those who can’t work being cared for with dignity?
Can you let yourself dream of cures being discovered for diseases, and people living with hope and joy even until cures are found?
Can you let yourself dream of conflicts being settled with diplomacy rather than human blood?
Can you let yourself dream of relationships and families being defined by love rather than by gender identities?
Can you let yourself dream of a different kind of church that will continue to lift up this outrageously radical dream of inclusion and fairness, a dream that Jesus called the kin-dom of God?
If so, the divine kin-dom is about to be experienced in our lives and in our world in ways never seen before; and this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I dream a dream of peace and plenty.
I dream a dream of joy and justice.
I dream a dream of hope and healing.
I am dreaming this dream into reality.
And so it is.