...all he had...

Pearl in Dirty Hands

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:45-46, NRSV

The Good News of the Gospel is easy enough to tell: God is crazy about you!!!

But the history of Christendom twists the language of this message until it almost communicates its opposite. Rather than the message that God is crazy about us, the Gospel is often articulated as the story of a god who is crazy about power. Instead of Jesus being the proof of our value and the lengths that God would go for us, the Gospel often becomes just another tool the world uses to convince us that we have to prove our worth. What I mean to say is this. When it comes to the Kingdom of Heaven, most Christians today seem clueless. Based on the number of ways Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven to his followers, misunderstanding God's relationship to creation seems to be an age old problem. Empires throughout history have always wanted more than the obedience of their subjects--they want their hearts. And empires have always known that the best way win the allegiance of a people is to capitalize on their beliefs about the divine, about themselves, and about their relationship to the world around them. Jesus' teachings seemed to make the idea of a kingdom central. Voila! Jesus plus kingdom equals God ordained rule. Thus, it only seems natural to conclude that Jesus' preaching about a kingdom or an empire would result in one or more earthly empires ruled by emperors who claimed to be followers of Jesus, their rule a gift from God.

So what's the problem? As Mark Van Steenwyk explains it, Jesus' teachings were not about supporting earthly kingdoms, but about subverting them. When speaking about the teachings of Jesus, rather than using the phrase "Kingdom of God," he chooses to use the phrase "Unkingdom of God." He summarizes his book in this video.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/73258328]

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the most famous of Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. As I wrote in my post last week, it is all about looking beyond the problems and seeing the promises. The Kingdom of Heaven is like these tiny seeds that appear to be of little value, but out of them grow these large, magnificent trees. No matter how small or insignificant we think we are, God looks at us and sees that we are people with great promise. God is crazy about us.

In Matthew 13, just after the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus continues telling us more parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. It seems the Kingdom of Heaven is so unlike the kingdoms of this world that over and over Jesus has to give us examples to help us make sense of the difference. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant who sells all he has to buy this pearl of great price. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who found a treasure in a field and sold all that he has in order to have that treasure. These parables are about obsession. They are stories about people who do crazy things to rescue a hidden treasure. It seems that the Kingdom of Heaven is unreasonable, crazy even.

These parables make me think of the movie John Q. John Q is the story of a desperate father, his sick son, and an unjust healthcare system. The hospital and its doctors present themselves to the world as this place where people come to find care and wholeness. But the truth is, they are only about power and money. John Q's son needs a new heart, but his insurance will not cover it. So John goes crazy, willing to do whatever it takes--no matter how unreasonable it seems--to make sure his son gets a new heart. He holds an emergency room hostage so that he can get the hospital's attention. This movie is a great lesson about power and the revelation of injustice. John seems to be crazy, careless, unreasonable, dangerous. But the moviegoer watching the story unfold is able to see the truth: it is not John Q that is careless and unreasonable, it is the healthcare system.

Perhaps this is not the best comparison with Jesus. John Q carried a gun, Jesus carried a cross. But both Jesus and John use seemingly unreasonable tactics to reveal the unreasonableness of unjust systems of power.

The Kingdom of Heaven, the parable says, is like a merchant who becomes obsessed with this one pearl. He no longer cares about his business, his future, his family, or anything else. This pearl that he has found means more to him than anything else. Its worth is beyond measure to him. He is obsessed, and for it, he gives all that he has. He is crazy about it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not like earthly kingdoms. Earthly kingdoms are obsessed with power and authority. They are ruled by people who are only concerned with making a name for themselves. They are systems ruled by people who are concerned with fame and reputation. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Heaven is ruled by a God who is not obsessed with power and authority, but is obsessed with seeing God's promises come to life in us. God is crazy about us.

Earthly kingdoms are ruled by fear and manipulation, coercion and violence. The assumption underlying this way of thinking is that if someone has value they must prove it. "Prove yourself," is the message. And so, the systems of this world force us to constantly consider what will make us more successful, what moves us up in the world, what will increase our profits, our pay, our prestige.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not ruled by fear, it is powered by love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:8). Like the pearl merchant, Jesus is the revelation that God is willing to do the unreasonable, to do whatever it takes to rescue us, to safeguard and keep us, to save us, to see our promise come to life. Like John Q, Jesus is the revelation that God is willing to do whatever it takes to see God's dreams for us become a reality. God sees promise in us, and God has and will give everything, whatever it takes...like the merchant, "all that he has." Jesus is the revelation that the Kingdom of God is an unkingdom, a power aimed at undoing systems of oppression and injustice. The world says, "Prove yourself." God says, "You're value is beyond measure. You are my beloved creation."

The Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus is the revelation of God, and God is crazy about you!!!