Saturday, February 12, 2011

Out of Egypt

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’
Luke 17:20-21

When Jesus was asked about signs of the Kingdom, he said that we will not be able to point and say, “Look, there it is!” Because it is, in fact, among us, and around us, and even within us.

Christians talk a lot about the Kingdom of God coming among us. We pray for it, and on our best days we even work for it. And when we look at the vast sweep of world history, we can see that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Still, it is not often that we can actually see it bending in front of us.

But when Omar Suleiman announced that Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak was leaving after thirty years of rule, and Tahrir Square erupted with shouts of “God is great,” we could say with our Muslim sisters and brothers, “Amen.” In 18 days, without weapons, the people of Egypt overthrew a dictator. It is an astonishing achievement.

Just to be clear, I know that Egypt is not the Kingdom of God. And we all know that nations are not built without struggle. The balance is fragile right now.

It is not over. And the future is uncertain. We don’t know what will happen as a military council takes “temporary” control. The road from overthrowing a dictatorship to establishing a stable democracy will be difficult. But this is a stunning moment.

Jesus presented an alternative to the Empire. The Romans also believed in peace, but they believed that peace was only possible through conquest, “peace through victory.” Jesus’ non-violent alternative was “peace through justice.”

When modern Christians read what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God, our tendency is to think that it is not realistic. It is, we tell ourselves, an impossible ideal.

It is naïve. Non-violence, we tell ourselves, does not work in the real world. We see it as a description of what ought to happen, but in our hearts we do not believe that it is possible.

Maybe we need to expand our concept of “possible.”

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