The greatest generation

In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw write:

Jesus would rather invoke the great kingless history of Israel. … Just like the kingless confederacy of Israel in the Torah, the kingdom [of God] Jesus spoke of is a real political kingdom that is unique, confusing, and unheard of. His kingdom is not of this world because it refuses power, pledges a different allegiance, and lives love. (110)

When we consider history, I think it’s very tempting to look back and wonder how things used to be so much better. A decade ago, America was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Two decades ago, the Berlin Wall fell. Four decades ago, a man walked on the moon. Those were the good times. Now? We’re in an economic recession, America has a reputation to repair, and we’re facing global threats of climate change, terrorism, and other major concerns.

Now, I don’t think Claiborne and Haw are trying to idealize history, nor are they implying that Jesus was doing so. And perhaps this perspective can be blamed on my realism/cynicism coming through, but when I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I’m reminded of a people who complained constantly, starting right after the Lord delivered them from Egypt, even when he was with them in pillars of fire and cloud; I’m reminded of a people who disobeyed Joshua even as he led them into the Promised Land; I’m reminded of a people who, only a generation after Joshua’s death, “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). When I think of the ‘great’ kingless history of Israel, I see what I see today: a bunch of people trying their best to follow God, making mistakes and messing up, but always, always being recipients of both God’s justice and his outrageous grace.

I think it would’ve been pretty amazing to live in the days when God dwelled with his people Israel, or when Jesus walked the earth, or when the early church “were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. … There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold” (Acts 4:32, 34). But I’m not sure that we were meant to just seek to emulate those times. We live in different days, with different tools at our disposal and different challenges to face.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

I always wondered what these would look like in practice, what these would look like when lived out; and I realized that that’s part of the challenge, part of the commission of the gospel. Every generation is called to figure out in its own context what it means to follow Jesus Christ and to bring the good news to the poor and the oppressed, to welcome the marginalized, to overturn the world’s understandings of power and strength and glory.

Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

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