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Jesus and the Reign of God

Jesus and the Reign of God

Saturday, November 21, 2020
Summary: Sunday, November 15—Friday, November 20, 2020

The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’s inaugural address, his Sermon on the Mount, and the majority of his parables. It is clearly the guiding image of his entire ministry. (Sunday)

Jesus is talking about the grace and the freedom to live God’s dream for the world now—while not rejecting the world as it is. That’s a mighty tension that is not easily resolved. (Monday)

Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support. If you’ve been impacted by these Meditations, please consider donating. Any amount is appreciated, as we are committed to keeping these messages free and accessible to all. (Tuesday)

Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Wednesday)

The Kingdom is about union and communion, it seems, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? (Thursday)

In God’s kingdom order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing. —Brian McLaren (Friday)

 

Practice: All Things Are Possible with God

The Franciscan charism always re-emerges in fresh form—because it is the very “marrow of the Gospel.” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s charism is to teach us how to live the Gospel in our time in fresh and needed ways. It is a challenging message and perhaps like the rich man, we will walk away (Mark 10:17–22), but we will not be unchanged by the encounter.

The gospel practices of confession, resistance, and nonviolent love are not . . . an exercise plan that will transform your church in thirty minutes a day. . . . These practices are simple steps that any group of people can take to move toward having church. But simple doesn’t mean easy. By any honest account, they are hard. . . .

Surely, if the good way were so simple, our history would not be as tortured, nor our present so fraught with division. . . .

Still, Jesus insists that the remedy is simple. Practice the way of life God has outlined for you, and you will live. When the middle-class American whines that this plan is too simple (it will never work!), Jesus doesn’t scold. “He looked at him and loved him,” Mark says. Jesus makes an honest assessment of the situation, then names the next step in gospel practice for this brother. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor” (Mark 10:21).

Don’t build the new sanctuary. Quit your job. Trust yourself. Forgive the one who hurt you. Go and meet the gang member. The next step for any of us is as particular as our context and the stories that have brought us into the relationships where we are. But the rich young ruler wouldn’t have been talking to Jesus . . . if he didn’t already sense something of what the next step in gospel practice would mean for him. . . .

“All things are possible with God,” Jesus says (Mark 10:27). It’s a simple statement of faith. But Jesus fleshes out its content for his disciples by saying “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age” (Mark 10:29–30).

Yes, gospel practices will cost us everything. But when we give ourselves to gospel practices, we gain what we could not have otherwise: “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:30). We can begin to live the life that’s really life—not some ideal (persecutions come right along with it!), but a beloved community that starts now and lasts forever. In short, when we trust the gospel’s practices, letting them direct our lives, we begin to have what the New Testament calls “church.”

Reference:
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion (InterVarsity Press: 2018), 150–151, 152–153.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008).

John Dominic Crossan, The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer (HarperCollins: 2010).

Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook: 2016).

Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi (HarperOne: 2014).

Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007).

Richard Rohr, CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call for Compassionate Action (Bias from the Bottom); and, Contemplative Prayer (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2007), CD and MP3 audio.

Richard Rohr, The Four Gospels (Center for Action and Contemplation: 1987), CD and MP3 audio.

Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996).

Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008).

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom’s “Common Sense”
Friday, November 20, 2020

My friend and colleague Brian McLaren has thought deeply and practically about what Jesus means when he speaks of the “Kingdom of God.” He views it as synonymous with the Gospel itself.

Jesus proposed a radical alternative—a profoundly new framing story that he called good newsNews, of course, means a story—a story of something that has happened or is happening that you should know about. Good news, then would mean a story that you should know about because it brings hope, healing, joy, and opportunity. . . .

The term kingdom of God, which is at the heart and center of Jesus’ message in word and deed, becomes positively incandescent in this kind of framing. As a member of a little colonized nation with a framing story that refuses to be tamed by the Roman imperial narrative, Jesus bursts on the scene with this scandalous message: The time has come! Rethink everything! A radically new kind of empire is available—the empire of God has arrived! . . . Open your minds and hearts like children to see things freshly in this new way, follow me and my words, and enter this new way of living. At every point, the essence of his kingdom teaching subverts the “common sense” of the Roman Empire and all its predecessors and successors:

Don’t get revenge when wronged, but seek reconciliation.

Don’t repay violence with violence, but seek creative and transforming nonviolent alternatives.

Don’t focus on external conformity to moral codes, but on internal transformation in love.

Don’t love insiders and hate or fear outsiders, but welcome outsiders into a new “us,” a new “we,” a new humanity that celebrates diversity in the context of love for all, justice for all, and mutual respect for all.

Don’t have anxiety about money or security or pleasure at the center of your life, but trust yourself to the care of God.

Don’t live for wealth, but for the living God who loves all people, including your enemies.

Don’t hate your enemies or competitors, but love them and do to them not as they have done to you—and not before they do to you—but as you wish they would do for you. . . .

The phrase “kingdom of God” on Jesus’ lips, then, means almost the opposite of what an American like me might assume, living in the richest, most powerful nation on earth. To a citizen of Western civilization like me, kingdom language suggests order, stability, government, policy, domination, control, maybe even vengeance on rebels and threats of banishment for the uncooperative. But on Jesus’ lips, those words describe Caesar’s kingdom: God’s kingdom turns all of those associations upside down. Order becomes opportunity, stability melts into movement and change, status-quo government gives way to a revolution of community and neighborliness, policy bows to love, domination descends to service and sacrifice, control morphs into influence and inspiration, and vengeance and threats are transformed into forgiveness and blessing.

Reference:
Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Thomas Nelson: 2007), 77, 99–100, 125.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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Jesus and the Reign of God

The Reign of God as Community
Thursday, November 19, 2020

The world has suffered much from the various forms of Christian colonialism. Yet the Reign of God is an alternative to domination systems and all “isms.” Jesus teaches that right relationship (i.e., love) is the ultimate and daily criterion. If a social order allows and encourages strong connectedness between people and creation, people and each other, people and God, then you have a truly sacred culture: the Reign of God. It is not a world without pain or mystery, but simply a world where we are connected and in communion with all things.

The Kingdom is about union and communion, which means that it is also about mercy, forgiveness, nonviolence, letting go, solidarity, service, and lives of love, patience, and simplicity. Who can doubt that this is the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching? In the Reign of God, the very motive for rivalry, greed, and violence has been destroyed. We know we are all part of God’s Beloved Community.

Author, activist, and community organizer Lisa Sharon Harper describes it in this way:

Evidence of the presence of the Kingdom of God is thick wherever and whenever people stand on the promise of God that there is more to this world—more to this life—than what we see. There is more than the getting over, getting by, or getting mine. There is more than the brokenness, the destruction, and the despair that threaten to wash over us like the waters of the deep. There is a vision of a world where God cuts through the chaos, where God speaks and there is light. There is a vision where there is protection and where love is binding every relationship together. [1]

Jesus did not come to impose Christendom like an imperial system. Every description he offers of God’s Reign—of love, relationship, non-judgment, and forgiveness, where the last shall be first and the first shall be last—shows that imposition is an impossibility! Wherever we have tried to force Christianity on people, the long-term results have been disastrous. The Gospel flourishes in the realm of true freedom.

But it is a freedom we must choose for ourselves. It is almost impossible to turn away from what seems like the only game in town (political, economic, or religious), unless we have glimpsed a more attractive alternative. It is hard to imagine it, much less imitate it, unless we see someone else do it first. Jesus is that icon of the more attractive alternative, a living parable. Jesus has forever changed our human imagination, and we are now both burdened and gladdened by the new possibility. There is good news to counter the deadening bad news, but one first has to be turned away from a conventional way of understanding.

I do not think that Jesus ever expected that the whole world would become formally Christian, but his truth about right relationship and his proclamation of the power of powerlessness will save the world from self-destruction.

References:
[1] Lisa Sharon Harper, The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right (Waterbrook: 2016), 205.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 7, 11, 13.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom as Consciousness
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul offers a puzzling injunction to the new Christians. He writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ” (2:5). CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault explores how developing this kind of “Christ-consciousness” is the key to understanding Jesus’s teaching on the “Kingdom of Heaven.”

How do we put on the mind of Christ? How do we see through his eyes? How do we feel through his heart? How do we learn to respond to the world with that same wholeness and healing love? That’s what Christian orthodoxy really is all about. It’s not about right belief; it’s about right practice. . . .

Jesus uses one particular phrase repeatedly: “the Kingdom of Heaven.” You can easily confirm this yourself by a quick browse through the gospels; the words jump out at you from everywhere. . . .

So what do we take it to be? . . . [Jesus] says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you” (that is, here) and “at hand” (that is, now). It’s not later, but lighter—some more subtle quality or dimension of experience accessible to you right in the moment. You don’t die into it; you awaken into it. . . .

The Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to, but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place. . . The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. And these are indeed Jesus’s two core teachings, underlying everything he says and does. . . .

When Jesus talks about this Oneness . . . . what he more has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. His most beautiful symbol for this is in the teaching in John 15 where he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you” [see John 15:4–5]. A few verses later he says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love” [John 15:9]. . . . There is no separation between humans and God because of this mutual interabiding which expresses the indivisible reality of divine love. . . .

No separation between human and human is an equally powerful notion—and equally challenging. One of the most familiar of Jesus’s teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:39] . . . as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there . . . there are simply two cells of the one great Life.

References:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 29­­­, 30–32.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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A note from Fr. Richard: Where do we go from here?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Dear Friend,

I returned last week from an eight-day silent retreat last week. With all that has happened this year, I found the time in stillness even more necessary than usual. Periods of extended silence offer us the opportunity to step out of the world of dualism and opposition and into the world of nondual oneness. Both of these worlds exist, but most of us live only experiencing the world where separateness dominates. It’s no wonder we have the problems that we have! I believe only the contemplative mind can allow transformation at the deepest levels and help us rest in the awareness of God’s loving presence. This is why I started the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) years ago and why I am so committed to this work today.

2020 has been an unprecedented year, unlike anything I have seen in my 77 years — and we are not out of the woods yet. Where we go from here will write the story of this chapter of history. I’m convinced that the root of our divisions can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, and spiritual. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament or bind together).

Only together can we participate in the unity of the Spirit as we learn to relate to each other out of compassion and love. When action and contemplation are united, our lives and actions begin to heal our suffering world by their very presence. Jesus is the perfect example of how the inner revolution of prayer is deeply connected to the outer transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that contemplation will change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us!

We thank you for being part of this community. I hope our work has been helpful in your life during this challenging year and we are so grateful for your partnership in making it possible.

Twice a year we pause the Daily Meditations to ask for your support. This year we do so in profound respect of the needs and struggles in our larger community, and we trust your discernment about the right way to help.

For those of you who have been impacted by our work and are financially able, please consider donating. Your support is what enables us to share this message with people around the world. Every donation is received with gratitude and appreciation.

Please take a moment to read our Executive Director Michael’s note below about how you can help and the publication we’d like to share.

Tomorrow the Daily Meditations will continue exploring Jesus and the Reign of God.

May it be so.

Richard Rohr Signature

 


 

Dear Friends,

We have asked ourselves many times this year: “what is ours to do?” Amid the constellation of social challenges, we shifted much of our work to keep up with the changing realities in the world. I sincerely hope that our efforts to make the transformation and healing impact of the contemplative path accessible have been helpful for you.

Father Richard founded the CAC in 1987 because he saw a deep need for the integration of both Action and Contemplation. That founding message was the theme of our Daily Meditations this year because we believe there is more need for it today than ever before. We have seen our reader community expand significantly in recent months as thousands of people are searching for trustworthy guidance during these difficult times.

Thank you for being part of our community and one of the partners that makes all of this possible. Our organization is not funded by any denomination, endowment, or large foundation; we are supported by thousands of small donations from people like you.

Please consider making a one-time donation or a recurring gift. Your support allows us to keep our work free and accessible for more people around the world. If you are able, please consider making your donation a monthly one. Monthly support helps create the stability we need to share this message in a broader and more inclusive way.

In gratitude for an online donation of any size, we will send you a free digital version of our current edition of ONEING: Order, Disorder, Reorder.

For the first time, this edition includes contributions from all five of CAC’s core faculty. We invite you to experience the writings of our faculty as they walk through the ancient, transformational pattern of Order, Disorder, and Reorder, in a way that is strikingly applicable to our current moment.

Now more than ever, we honor the needs in all of our communities, and we trust your discernment on how best to help. Thank you for any support you can offer our work as we look to expand our vision and mission for years to come.

We are grateful to be partners together and we deeply appreciate any support you are able to continue providing to the CAC.

Onwards together,

Michael Poffenberger's Signature

Michael Poffenberger

Executive Director, Center for Action and Contemplation

P.S. Please consider contributing to the Center for Action and Contemplation (tax-deductible in the United States). You can donate securely online at cac.org/dm-appeal or send a check (USD only) to CAC, P.O. Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195. Learn more about charitable giving at cac.org/support. Email us at dev[email protected] if you are considering making a legacy or estate gift. Thank you. 

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Jesus and the Reign of God

The Kingdom Is like a Mustard Seed
Monday, November 16, 2020

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32

The Reign of God is Jesus’ message, but he never describes it literally. He walks around it and keeps giving different images of the Real. For example, the mustard seed is very small and insignificant, and the kingdom is “like” that. Pliny the Elder, a contemporary of Jesus, wrote an encyclopedic book called Natural History, in which he describes all the plants that were known in the Mediterranean world. He says two main things about the mustard plant: it’s medicinal, and it’s a weed that cannot be stopped:

Mustard . . .  with its pungent taste and fiery effect is extremely beneficial for the health. It grows entirely wild, though it is improved by being transplanted: but on the other hand when it has once been sown it is scarcely possible to get the place free of it, as the seed when it falls germinates at once. [1]

The two images on which Jesus is building in this parable of the mustard seed are a therapeutic image of life and healing, and a fast-growing weed. What a strange thing for Jesus to say: “I’m planting a weed in the world!” Jesus’ teachings of nonviolence and simplicity are planted and they’re going to flourish, even wildly so. The old world is over.

The virtue for living in the in-between times Jesus calls “faith.” He is talking about the grace and the freedom to live God’s dream for the world now—while not rejecting the world as it is. That’s a mighty tension that is not easily resolved.

There are always two worlds. The world as it is usually operates on power, ego, and success. The world as it could be operates out of love. One is founded on dominative power, and the other is a continual call to right relationship and reciprocal power. The secret of this Kingdom life is discovering how we can live in both worlds simultaneously.

References:
[1] Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 19.170–171. See Pliny, Natural History, vol. 5, books 17–19, trans. H. Rackham (Harvard University Press: 1950), 528–529.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 40–41.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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Jesus and the Reign of God

The Reign of God
Sunday, November 15, 2020

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated for history a new social order. He called it the Reign or Kingdom of God and it became the guiding image of his entire ministry. The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’ inaugural address (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17, and Luke 4:14–30), his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and the majority of his parables. Once this guiding vision of God’s will became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onwards” (4:17), Jesus began to preach.

In order to explain this concept, it may be helpful to first say what it is not: the “Kingdom” is not synonymous with heaven. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the Reign of God is “eternal life,” or where we go after we die. That idea is disproven by Jesus’ own prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

“Thy Kingdom come” means very clearly that God’s realm is something that enters into this world, or, as Jesus puts it, “is close at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We shouldn’t project it into another world. What we discover in the New Testament, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the Kingdom of God is a new world order, a new age, a promised hope begun in the teaching and ministry of Jesus—and continued in us.

I think of the Kingdom of God as the Really Real (with two capital Rs). That experience of the Really Real—the “Kingdom” experience—is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s Reality with a capital R, the very bottom line, the pattern-that-connects. It’s the goal of all true religion, the experience of the Absolute, the Eternal, what is.

God gives us just enough tastes of God’s realm to believe in it and to want it more than anything. In the parables, Jesus never says the Kingdom is totally now or totally later. It’s always now-and-not-yet. When we live inside the Really Real, we live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. We learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together.

We only have the first fruits of the Kingdom in this world, but we experience enough to know that it’s the only thing that will ever satisfy us. Once we have had the truth, half-truths do not satisfy us anymore. In its light, everything else is relative, even our own life.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 3–4, 29, 109–110, 111.

Image credit: 芥子園畫傳 Mountainside View (detail of print from The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting), Juran (960–), China, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed which a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air can come and shelter in its branches. —Matthew 13:31–32
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