The most recent installment of Saving Jesus, which was about the “kingdom of God,” opened my eyes to the political dimension of the Lord’s Prayer. We say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,” and then ask God to meet our personal needs for food, shelter, and physical and spiritual security. I’d always pictured the two halves of the prayer interacting thus: We ask God for those protections, but ultimately accept whatever He sends us —
His will, not ours. And yet we still ask, because we are humble enough to admit that we’re still mortal men and women who need to worry about these survival basics, not angels who can spend all their time (do angels have time?) praising God.
On last week’s DVD, retired bishop John Shelby Spong suggested an additional reading. This prayer was important to the early church, facing persecution and trying to cling to its commitment to nonviolence. Those Christians would have prayed that they’d have what they needed to survive from day to day, and not falter, till they brought about the kingdom, till God’s will was done on earth as it was in heaven.
This reminded me of something the pastor at the evangelical church said in a recent sermon. (I’m not ready to call it my evangelical church, but they’re starting to grow on me….) Forgiveness, he said, is how God sweeps flat the obstacles in our soul so that the winds of the Holy Spirit can blow freely through us. Without detracting from the utter gratuitousness of the gift, it’s comforting to think that God gets something out of the deal as well. We’re set free from sin so that we can be what God wanted us to be, not just for ourselves but for the benefit of the whole world. What God does for me, He does in some sense for everybody’s sake.
Also on the DVD, theologian John Dominic Crossan further demonstrated how the language we use to describe Jesus was a direct political rebuke, really a satire, of the divine titles that Caesar Augustus claimed. To a first-century hearer, “Jesus is God” would have meant that the God I believe in looks like Jesus, not Caesar. He’s a God who brings about peace by doing justice, not through violent conquest. According to Crossan, “Was Jesus divine or not” is a phony question. The real question was “Is Jesus God or is Caesar God?” In other words, which side are you on?
While I actually think the Incarnation is deeply important to our understanding of salvation, I welcome Crossan’s additional gloss on the topic. The strength of this DVD series is its restoration of the historical and political meanings of the gospel; I only wish they didn’t feel the need to play those meanings off against traditional theological and personal ones in an either-or kind of way. N.T. Wright does a much better job integrating the two. Still, half a loaf, etc.
Crossan’s summary of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom is as follows: God has inaugurated a new era, but we are called to actualize His promises in how we treat each other. It can’t happen without God, but it also can’t happen without us. As a solution to those endless “faith vs. works, free will vs. sovereignty” debates, I like this just fine.