Jesus’ teachings are not all difficult in the same ways. Some are difficult to comprehend, some are difficult to live, some are difficult to remain mindful of. Some we notice ourselves wandering away from, others we unconsciously abandon and are surprised over and over again when we become conscious of what we have done.
Every generation has made the same mistake Jesus’ disciples made in relation to the teaching we are going to explore today.
Now let’s take a look at today’s difficult teaching.
“My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.”
It is from John’s Gospel, chapter 18, verse 36.
It is so easy and tempting to focus on worldly politics and neglect the non-political realties of eternity. It is so easy to get so caught up in political engagement that we neglect our spiritual needs and responsibilities. And if the reason we give ourselves for our political involvements and obsessions are themselves religious, it is easy to find ourselves justifying our neglect of the spiritual life, or indeed confusing political engagement with spiritual engagement. All the time Jesus keeps reminding us that His Kingdom is not of this world.
And it is here that we stumble upon one of the central struggles we face in our attempts to follow Jesus and live out the Gospel in our practical everyday lives. It would be relatively easy if we could abandon the politics of this world altogether. We cannot. For the Gospel places demands upon us to participate in public life. It requires us to engage as citizens.
We are not called to embrace heaven and reject earth; we are called to embrace both.
We prefer all or nothing scenarios, but the Gospel provides few if any. It is so much more dynamic than the ridged set of rules that religion is so often accused of championing. The teachings of Jesus require us to have one foot planted firmly in this world and one in the next.
We were born into this world and we are political creatures. Perhaps we were endowed with this faculty as another need for survival. I do find it fascinating that there is no categorical antonym for the word political. Even the person who says he is apolitical is taking a political stance.
In today’s difficult teaching, Jesus also subtlety points out the problem that is inherent with kingdoms of this world: they need to be protected and that usually means fighting.
We all have kingdoms. I have seen people build kingdoms at work and kingdoms at home, I know people who have money kingdoms that they rule over, and we all in some way have a kingdom of possessions. Some may be larger, some may be smaller, it matters not. It is the kingdoms themselves, regardless of size, that cause the problems.
You see, kingdoms need to be protected. And in protecting our kingdoms we are often drawn into direct conflict with the Gospel. This can take many forms, but two are common. The first is this, we fight. The fight can take on many forms, it need not be physical. It could be political or ideological. It can take the form of exclusion or elitism. We have developed an almost endless number of ways to fight without raising arms. At the same time, we have developed a staggering array of ways to destroy each other physically also. The one thing I know for certain about kingdoms and fighting, the bigger the kingdom the bigger the fight, when it comes time to protect it.
The second way kingdoms lead us to violate the Gospel is this: All our human hungers lead us to want to maintain our kingdoms, and this leads us to do things that violate what we know to be good, true, right, and just.
The maintenance of earthy kingdoms is spiritually expensive, and often results in spiritual bankruptcy.
This question confronts us at every turn: How can we further His Kingdom when we are so wrapped up in our own kingdoms? The unavoidable truth here is that we cannot. Dismantling our own kingdoms, unwrapping ourselves from them, developing a healthy detachment from the earthly kingdoms that we are necessarily responsible for, is part of the spiritual quest for the rich and poor alike, for the powerful and the powerless.
The richest and the poorest among us both have enough money and things to destroy their souls. And even the least powerful among us has enough power to ruin his or her soul. It is clear how much damage a lot of money and a lot of power can do, but it’s amazing and often overlooked how much damage a little bit of power can do, and a little bit of money. We have all encountered people with small spirits who are given a little power and the result is disturbing.
We underestimate how much character is required to hold money, possessions, and power, without endangering the health of our souls.
Jesus reminds us today that his Kingdom is not of this world, and by doing so, reminds us of the dangers earthly kingdoms present.
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