I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what it means to belong to the Kingdom of Heaven (or the Kingdom of God, if you prefer). I have come to the conclusion that it is quite clear that it isn’t something that we go to when we die – that’s pretty obvious. What I am more interested in is the notion that it is about more than our ‘spiritual’ lives.
As Rob Bell rightly points out in his DVD Everything is Spiritual, Jesus’ and his peers would not have had a concept of ‘spiritual’. The idea simply didn’t exist to them that you could separate this world from the reality of God. So it makes sense to me then that when Jesus preaches in his home town he declares that there is “good news for the poor”.
What is the good news if you’re poor? Is it that you can turn up to church on a Sunday and tell God you’re sorry and then feel better and then go home again? Is it that you’re going to be OK when you die, because you’re headed in the right direction?
Or is it, perhaps, that you don’t need to be poor any more, because God has heard your cry and he is going to DO something about it?
To me that’s part of what the “Great Commission” is all about. Yes, we need to tell people that God has forgiven them. Yes, Jesus speaks of being poor in spirit. Yes, what happens when we die is important. But so is the world we live in here and now.
The response of the first Christians in the aftermath of pentecost wasn’t to go all Amish on us and create a sect like commune. Nor was it to overthrow the Romans and start a new way of ruling over people – though that did happen eventually – something I feel is, frankly, much to the shame of the church in A.D 300 or so.
No – their response was to sell what they didn’t need, focus on the here and now, share their lives with one another, provide for one another, and love one another. But not just one another – to love their God and love their neighbour as themselves as well.
When we talk about loving our neighbour as ourselves, we don’t get it. We think it means we need to tell them the gospel, or be there on occasional difficult days. Except that you don’t just do that for yourself do you? You try and keep healthy, you keep fed, you try and find a job you enjoy doing, you look after yourself. Because you love yourself well.
So, we are called to love one another – and we are called especially by God to love the poor (if you don’t believe that, I suggest you read the Bible. God doesn’t stop going on and on and on and on about them).
So how do we love them? We could ensure there was a system of government that took from the rich and gave to the poor. A society where those who work hard are rewarded with high taxes, and those who do not work hard enough are rewarded with government hand-outs.
Let’s face it, it’s a nice idea, but Socialism simply doesn’t work.
The alternative we are given by our political system is called a trickle-down economy. Loosely put, we should free people up to do what they will with their money so that they can benevolently give it to people – something which has more meaning and which affects those who truly need it rather than those who do not truly suffer.
I should say at this point that I am actually in favour of some government and taxes. I think having universal access to basic human rights is essential – law and order, health, education and so on. I don’t believe in a private NHS or a fractured school system. I’m no capital C Conservative. What I have seen of them is not truly a party of the “aspiring class” but one of the privileged few.
I don’t think this approach works, either. So what is the alternative?
I’m not convinced that we, as Christians, should be taking part in the economy of this world. We’re only going to get ourselves into a moral maze of a mess and end up fretting over shopping in Tesco’s or not being able to afford organic food or wether we should become vegetarian or not buy clothes outside of Charity (thrift for my US buddies) shops. Instead I see a vision of a very different Christian society.
I see people moving in among the poor, the destitute and the needy. I see them not simply holding on to their hard earned middle class cash and giving it away to those in need, distant from them and alien to them. I see them not simply loving their neighbours afterlife soul, nor loving simply their greatest need through Mammon.
No, I see a Church prepared to fully love those it comes across. I see a people moving in amongst those in need and loving them on every level. I see a people not confined by politics or creeds, but a people instead prepared to give to those in need, help them to no longer need, fight for their right and ability to meet those needs by themselves, and to undermine the systems that stand in their way.
What does that look like? I’m still working that out. But I can imagine a Church that says no more to the exploitative nature of Capitalism, and never again to the need to redistribute what we have and cause friction and discontent amongst those who are currently better off.
What if instead of buying expensive organic food, we grew our own, with our neighbours – helping them along the way, shared our crops, and made meals out of it that we can share with one other, getting to know our fellow travellers on this earth in newer and deeper ways, ways which our Oxfam standing order couldn’t even begin to come close to?
Maybe then we’d begin to see real change in this world. Maybe then we’d begin to see the poor receive truly good news here and now. And maybe, just maybe, in seeing that these people care about them, that this God cares about them too.