Some disturbing words from Jesus the Messiah:
“And many who are first shall be last…whomever would be the greatest among you shall be your servant…The first will be last and the last shall be first…Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven…The Kingdom belongs to such as these [little children]…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom…Blessed are the [anawim1] for they will inherit the earth…you can not serve God and money…If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me…Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me…
I really need not write anything if you prayerfully read the above words of Jesus and just sit in silent contemplation of just how ‘upside-down’ Jesus’ words and his way really are. His words were radical then and they are just as radical now (radical coming from the Latin word, ‘radix’ meaning ‘root’).
Our world today, as in the days when the Nazarene walked the earth, might still mean right, the strong survive by way of a ‘survival of the fittest’ ethos, youth and beauty are still worshiped and pursued, our mortality is still feared and avoided and the poor are still demonized. But as we enter this Advent season, a time of year where we remember that God came to us as a helpless, naked baby born not in a posh neonatal ward but an ‘animal shelter’ I feel it is important to remind myself of the nature of the Kingdom of God: namely, that it is an upside-down Kingdom.
In a world where God is becoming irrelevant to a whole generation and an ever-increasingly secularized world, lost in the middle of this is a helpless Messiah lying in a stable held by an unwed teenage Hebrew girl who is left to wonder if the angelic messenger was foretelling the truth of this swaddling-clothed little wonder or if she is just ‘insane.’
From the beginning of his life to the ‘theme’ of his good news to his death on a cross abandoned by almost everyone, Jesus embodied the paradox of God’s grace and love in the Upside-down Kingdom ethos: the rich become poor, the poor become rich, the first are last, the last are first, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword…the list goes on. In God’s Kingdom, up is down, down is up…grace is given to the unrighteous and the righteous are judged quite harshly. This is not so good for modern-day marketing, is it?
Does this message of the Upside-down Kingdom resound throughout the majority of sermons and homilies coming throughout the world?
The Kingdom of heaven is indeed an upside-down kingdom. It is not the kingdom of America, or the Red Kingdom or the Blue Kingdom. It is a Kingdom where all who call upon the King become ‘naturalized’ citizens; and we who call ourselves citizens of this Kingdom are called to follow the law of the King of this realm. And that law is the law of love – a law that embraces the unlovable, the unlovely, the broken, the wounded, the addicted and the marginalized. It is a law that embraces both good citizens and ones who have broken the laws of any land.
So what better day than today – World AIDS Day – to remind myself of the Upside-down Mandate given to us by the wandering Nazarene. And we better be careful for just when we are not looking, his grace will turn our hearts and our worlds upside-down, and Spirit willing, hopefully our churches as well.
1) Anawim is a word that is often mistranslated as meek but more accurately is a word that means the “lowly,” “the poor,” “the righteous poor,” or “the vulnerable.” From Steve Kimes, “Overall, ‘anawim’ mean those who are outcast or persecuted and then seek God for justice and help.”