Living in the Light of the Coming Kingdom

The tradition reviewed in the last two chapters could be sliced, tweaked, and expanded in manv wavs. But enough has been said to give us a fair idea of the

292. Mark 9.33-37 pars.; 10.35-45 pars. 'There is no suggestion of the twelve functioning as "priests" to others' "laitv"' (Dunn, Jesus' Call to Discipleship 106). In Matthew the authority given to Peter to 'bind and loose' in Matt. 16.19 is given to 'the disciples'/'the church' (18.18). Matthew also includes an explicit warning against anv attempts within the community to claim an authoritative status which infringes the authoritv exclusive to God and Christ (23.812).

strong impression left by Jesus on his disciples in regard to what he expected from them.

a. His message of the kingdom oriented discipleship firmly by reference to God, God as both king and Father. Life was to be lived out of reverence for, fear before, trust in, and whole-hearted love for God. The generosity of God as Creator in bountiful provision, as the Lord who forgives unpayable debts, and as the Father who responds unfailingly to his children was also to be the pattern for Jesus' disciples. To give God first place would require a reorientation of any ambitions for social advance and wealth accumulation, a willingness to endure rejection and suffering, and, for some at least, disruption and renunciation of family life. In all this the eschatological note (chapter 12 above), while not always clearly evident, can usually be assumed as a reverberating echo-chamber in which the teaching was first heard. There are no real grounds for playing off 'sapiential' against 'eschatological' as motives for Jesus' ethical teaching.294 The Creator is also the king, and the coming kingdom is always there as an integral presupposition. It would be merely playing games to oppose the 'first' of Matt. 6.33 ('Seek first the kingdom of God') to the 'first' (and 'second') of the love command(s) in Mark 12.28-31.

b. Jesus' message was directed to Israel. He called, as the prophets of old called, for his people to return to their Lord, but now, in view of the kingdom to come. The social values he preached were those long ago laid down in Torah and urged by prophet, particularly God's priority for the poor. But he also protested against those whose claim to righteousness was divisive and dismissive of those who interpreted Torah righteousness in different terms. Characteristic of his fellowship was its openness to those normally regarded as unsuitable table companions. Not that he had much realistic hope of his message winning a widespread hearing. But neither did he speak in terms of a remnant, erect boundaries round his group, or turn his back on Israel, despite repeated frustration. His call was rather for his followers to be Israel, to live as Israel should before God.

c. The evidence gives little support for any suggestion that Jesus set out to renew local community296 or to rebuild peasant community.297 His teaching

294. Cf. Schrage, Ethics 30-37.

295. There are Cynic parallels, some close (chapter 13 n. 148; as elsewhere chapter 14 nn. 50, 195, 199), but they are better seen as parallel responses to equivalent situations in the Greco-Roman world rather than lines of influence. The Jewishness of Jesus is as clear here as anywhere.

296. Horsley, Jesus chs. 8-9 (above, §4.6b), though he is justified in characterizing Jesus' strategy in terms more of local community than of Theissen's wandering charismatics (228-40); similarly Herzog, Jesus 208-16.

297. Crossan, Historical Jesus 344; Birth 330-31; Crossan and Reed, Excavating Jesus amounts to no blueprint for a complete social order, such as one might construct from the Dead Sea Scrolls. The social divisions and economic hardship of the time are regularly reflected in the Jesus tradition. The rich are strongly counselled to beware of the dangers their wealth brings and to give willingly to the poor. But Jesus is not recalled as putting forward economic policies to reconstruct society and make it more just. Conversely, however, Jesus himself neither withdrew from 'society' nor encouraged his disciples to do so. We have noticed more than once that Jesus' teaching and conduct indicate considerable involvement in society.298 Nor are there any grounds in Jesus' teaching for a clear distinction between private and public morality. On the contrary, principles are clearly enunciated 'across the board' — on societal topics like the importance of providing for the poor, Sabbath, purity, and divorce, on the primary importance of inward integrity and motivation from love of neighbour, on the dangers of rules being allowed to stifle such love, on service of others as the true measure of greatness — principles which certainly have an idealistic quality, but which can nevertheless serve as a yardstick by which both social policy and private morality might be Conversely, the warnings against taking the values of ac quisitive society as any kind of pattern or norm for the community of ship are clear. Does all this qualify him for the epithet 'subversive sage', 'transformative sage'?300 Why not? The prophetic protest has rarely unsettled too comfortable, too selfish society for very long. But Jesus' protest 'remains on the table' for any society willing to acknowledge that its ethos has been shaped by the Jesus tradition in any measure. The political edge of Jesus' teaching at this point should not be blunted.

d. Neither will we find a complete system of ethics in Jesus' teaching. Claims that he ignored or abrogated the law are at best exaggerated, at worst anti-Jewish. The principles he advocated were no less drawn from Torah than were the rules to which he objected. But his own ethical responses were more instinctual than systematic, taking account of the human element in the particular situa-tion.301 Like his vision of the kingdom to come (chapter 12 above), the ethos which he documented by word and action is episodic and illustrative. Nor, we should perhaps stress again, can his teachings be neatly allocated under the heading of personal ethics rather than social ethics. True, he spoke to and dealt with

298. A major weakness of Vermes's Religion is the failure to set Jesus' teaching in its sociopolitical context.

299. Cf. Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus 370-72.

300. Borg, Jesus 116 (see also above, §4.7). Borg also accepts Horsley's description of Jesus as 'a social prophet', but distances from Horsley's elaboration, as in n. 296 above (Jesus in Contemporary Scholarship 105 and n. 24).

301. Cf. Keck: 'Jesus had a purpose, but he did not have a program' (Who Is Jesus? 156; see also 157-59).

people as individuals, but not as isolated individuals, and not as individuals without responsibilities to others in societv, the poor as well as the neighbour, the so-ciallv and religiouslv marginalized as well as the individual sinner. Nor, finallv, should we try to distinguish a 'disciple ethos' from a 'general ethos'.302 As it proved impractical to distinguish 'disciples' from 'followers' (§§13.2-3) and to draw clear boundaries between different circles of discipleship (§13.8), so there are no grounds for arguing that Jesus looked for different levels of actualization of their discipleship. Not all might have to leave familv and abandon possessions, but principled living, love of neighbour, and forgiving the fellow-disciple knew no such distinctions.

e. Did Jesus seek to establish a church? The question has such an anachronistic ring as to be almost not worth asking. But if bv 'church' we mean the 'as-semblv' gathered before the Lord God, then it could be said that Jesus envisaged his disciples so functioning. Should we rather speak of a new familv, that is of discipleship as a fictive familv with God as Father and Jesus as eldest brother? Not if bv that we mean a new social grouping bv definition set over against and in antithesis with birth-families and other common social groupings. But if we mean bv that a communitv bonded bv 'brotherlv love', distinguished bv its openness to the marginalized, characterized bv members putting themselves out for one another as one would for a beloved sister or brother and not bv hierarchv, priestlv craft, or power-plav, then the concept would not be so far adrift from what Jesus seems to have hinted at.

In short, we could sum up Jesus' vision for the present as 'living in the light of the coming kingdom'. Not as an 'interim ethic', in Schweitzer's terms,303 that is, as a radicallv idealistic ethic for the extraordinarv conditions of the in-between time before the kingdom comes, nor as a means of bringing in the king-dom.304 Nor as though the kingdom was alreadv consummated and there was nothing more to look forward to: Jesus' disciples still have to prav, 'Mav vour kingdom come'; the resurrection as envisaged in Mark 12.18-27pars, has still to take place! But rather as the character of kingdom life, lived alreadv here and now in anticipation of God's ordering of societv when his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Not as living in a spiritual world, whether 'bevond time and space' or bevond the 'world's' reach; but as living in a sacramental universe, where the signs of God's providential care are evervwhere to be recognized, learned from, and received with thankfulness. Not as a closed societv, deter

302. Merklein, Jesu Botschaft 128-31.

303. Schweitzer, Mystery 97; Quest] 352; Quest2 323, 454-56.

304. Schrage, Ethics 26-30.

305. Cf. A. E. Harvev, Strenuous Commands: The Ethic of Jesus (London: SCM, 1990) ch. 9, 'Living "As If'' (the kingdom were alreadv a reality).

mined by rules and excluding boundaries, but as a community which seeks above all else God's priorities, in which forgiveness is experienced, which is often surprised by grace, and which knows well how to celebrate God's goodness in the openness of table-fellowship and love of neighbour.

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