May 13th, 2011 | Add a Comment
I sometimes type up some notes or a script for the Yeshua in Context podcast. Last week’s podcast on “Penitent Disciples” generated a lot of email. I should have typed up notes. In today’s podcast, my topic is still within the same general range of subject matter: practical application of Yeshua’s teaching. I will start by referencing the same books I mentioned last podcast (which many emailed to ask more about), one a Jewish book on ethical responsibility and the other a Christian book on the practical implications of Yeshua’s kingdom teaching. I also have a blog series on my main blog called “Life of Loving Deeds” which builds on these same themes and draws from Jewish and Christian sources.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility (2005, Schocken).
Scot McKnight, One.Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow (2010, Zondervan).
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Prophets (1962, reprinted in 2007 by Hendrickson).
http://www.messianicjudaism.me/musings/2011/05/10/life-of-loving-deeds-1/ (and more will follow in this series).
A comment in Scot McKnight’s book One.Life got me thinking. He made a comparison between two two-part parables of Yeshua that I had never thought of connecting before.
The first two-part parable occurs only in Luke 14 and concerns the builder of a tower and a king counting his troops. The second two-part parable occurs only in Matthew 13 and concerns one who finds a treasure in a field and another who finds a “pearl of great price.” There’s no literary connection between them, but there is a thematic connection.
One is about kingdom winners. The other is about kingdom losers.
To begin to understand the concept of kingdom from a practical point of view, I’d like to read a few excerpts from McKnight’s book. This is not about the theology of the kingdom or tracing the biblical roots of God’s kingship. Those are very important tasks on their own. But this is about what the kingdom means in a sense of practice, of living in light of the Rule of God on earth:
Every Jew in Galilee and everywhere else, and I mean every one of them, when they heard Jesus say “the kingdom,” looked for three things: king, land, citizens. This might surprise you, but that is only because so many Christians have turned kingdom into either a “personal experience with Jesus” (the evangelical meaning of kingdom) or into “cultural redemption” (the liberal, progressive meaning of kingdom). When Jesus said “the kingdom,” the first thing his hearers looked for was a king, and then they were thinking of a land (or a sacred place or sacred space) and themselves as participants (citizens). This needs to be fleshed out for one reason: Kingdom is not about an experience with God but about the society of God, and this society is Jewish (and biblical) to the core.
It’s a great explanation and I appreciate the emphasis on Jesus in his Jewish context. I appreciate McKnight’s refusal to reduce the kingdom to a feeling or an individualistic experience. I also appreciate his refusal to reduce the kingdom to a feel-good message about improving humanity.
God’s society has a king, a land, a specific and definite shape and purpose and destination. The king is God himself who has given all authority to the Son. The land is Israel but the kingdom spreads to the whole renewed earth from Israel. The specific plan and shape unfolds in stages and we are in part of it now and much more is to come. God’s society is initiated and much work has been done by God and his servants, but, to say it simply, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
And then, on page 31, McKnight gives a very practical definition of kingdom: God’s Dream Society on earth, spreading out from the land of Israel to encompass the whole world.
On page 82, he summarizes some of the key practices involved in living for the kingdom, saying that a disciple is one who follows Jesus by devoting his or her One.Life to the kingdom of God, fired by Jesus’ own imagination, to a life of loving God and loving others, and to a society shaped by justice, especially for those who have been marginalized, and to peace.
The kingdom and living for the kingdom, then, is a big deal. And there are winners and losers. And what makes the difference between them?
Let’s consider the contrast between the two sets of parables that first turned my mind to the subject. Let’s consider the tower builder and king counting his troops versus the treasure finder and pearl seeker.
The Difference Between Winning and Losing the Kingdom
The tower builder and the king counting his troops stories both come in a section of Luke concerned with instruction for disciples about what to expect and how to follow the Master.
Yeshua’s demands are high. Given a choice between family and the work of a disciple, Yeshua says sharply that being a disciple is far greater in priority. Given a choice between protecting our lives and clinging to safety versus doing the hard work of a disciples, Yeshua says there is really no choice. A disciple will go to the cross for faith and love. A disciple will not count death too great a price.
For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’
I thought I used to understand this parable. The first time I read it, I had the wrong idea. I thought this was a calling for a special category of person, something not addressed to everyone hearing Yeshua’s words. I thought these words were for people who wanted to become clergy, to be missionaries or pastors or monks or holy men and women of some kind. So I thought this could mean, “Don’t take up the calling to be an especially holy person unless you think you can handle the challenge.”
I felt as if most people would be free to ignore this demand of Yeshua. There could be ordinary followers and specially dedicated followers, I reasoned, and the cost of being dedicated is too high for most people.
The second story in this two-part parable is similar: Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace.
Don’t start building a tower unless you have the means to finish. Be careful before you accept the challenge to war. Is the tower worth it? Is the reward of winning worth it?
Then Yeshua gives the lesson of the parable: So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Here is the truly important thing: Yeshua tells us specifically what the cost is — renouncing our possessions.
Contrast that with the two-part parable in Matthew 13: The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Note here that the lesson is the same, though made positively instead of negatively: sell everything and commit yourself one hundred percent to the kingdom.
The difference between kingdom winners and losers is simple: commitment.
One hundred percent commitment makes you a disciple. Ninety-nine percent commitment leaves you with a crumbling, unfinished tower; leaves you not in possession of the pearl or the treasure; leaves you conquered and defeated by the other kingdom, the kingdom that had higher commitment than you did.
Okay, yes, Yeshua deliberately exaggerates. Yes, in his mercy God accepts all efforts made in his direction and humility goes a long way.
But you can’t get around this: the kingdom is about knowing the king, believing in his land, being a participant in his dream society, and committing all your possessions to the cause.
Specific ways that gets fleshed out, ways that draw on Jewish and Christian thought about the ethics of responsibility, about almsgiving and tzedaka, about serving and sacrifice, that’s what we need to think about and put into practice.
Because if there is one thing that costs more than the kingdom, it is missing the kingdom.
Written by yeshuain
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