There’s a line in Luke’s gospel to which I keep coming back. The context of this particular line is important: Jesus is about to march into Jerusalem, and by the end of the week he will be executed by the empire. His followers, however, don’t have the benefit of knowing how this is going to shake out. They are full of anticipation and excitement, like a candidate waiting on the returns from an election they expect to win.
Here’s the line:
As they listened to this, Jesus told them another parable because he was near Jerusalem and they thought God’s kingdom would appear right away.
(Luke 19:11, CEB)
That last bit, that God’s kingdom “would appear right away,” is what I keep thinking about. The word “appear” here is the verb αναφαινεσθαι in Greek, but what’s most interesting is that it’s in the passive voice. They expect to enter the city, and for the kingdom to appear. Poof! A world of justice and peace, compassion and kindness, in which the wolf and lamb exist together in harmony, would just show up.
That’s not how it works, is it? A better world won’t just appear (and a global pandemic won’t just disappear, either). This is an assumption/belief that many Christians still hold, that one day God will impose a new heaven and earth on us by force. It doesn’t seem to be the case.
As Augustine said:
“Without God, we cannot. Without us, God will not.”
We often think we are waiting for God when, perhaps, God has been waiting for us all along. We have been waiting for us. The world will only be transformed into a better, equitable and peaceful place if we choose to participate in that process. Love will only win when we choose to let it win in and through us. Oppressive systems will only be abolished when we choose to stop propping them up by our action or inaction.
To be a Christian is to understand that this world is actually our home, and the transformation of this world—into a just and generous home for all human beings—is our work. I know that can feel overwhelming when we think of the massive scale of the work before us. After all, I am only one person. One vote. One voice. One out of billions. How can I affect any real and lasting change?
Let’s step back from the macro, and think about this at a micro level. It’s true that I am one person, one vote, one voice. But I can engage my life in a way that extends beyond me. I can use my vote, my voice, and anything else I am or have to create goodness around me. We all can, and if enough of us do that, then the possibilities for a transformed world are endless and all around us.
It’s not a guarantee. It won’t just happen. The peaceable kingdom won’t just appear. But it is possible, if we choose to partner with one another, and with the Divine in whose image we are made.
Let’s get to work!