August 1, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 10:10-12.
“Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”
This is a pretty grim warning. God rained down a sulphurous fire on Sodom. The next morning Abraham looked down from the place where had pleaded with God to spare the city and saw dense smoke arising as if fumes from a furnace. On Judgment Day God will treat those who reject the invitation of His Son and disciples more severely than the Sodomites. This seems awfully extreme.
The prophet Ezekiel in chapter 16 spoke the word of God in comparing Jerusalem to Sodom. “And look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy.” Therein lies the clue to Jesus’ words. He was urging people to turn from their old ways and to embrace the kingdom of God now. It was all about loving one another now, to lay down one’s life for a friend, to forgive, to act with compassion and justice. That is the kingdom that God is seeking to establish among us by acting through us. If I refuse Jesus’ invitation to do my part in bringing about God’s kingdom, it will not go well for me on Judgment Day. I will be “left out of God’s final restoration” as John Shea puts it in The Relentless Widow.
John Stanford in The Kingdom Within writes, “The reason things will go so badly for the people of Israel who deny the kingdom is not that they are so disobedient but that the kingdom and its call to consciousness are close at hand, and this creates a situation of crisis.” I am called to be conscious of what it means that the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s in my hands to do everything I can with God’s help to act with compassion and justice toward everyone. That often creates a crisis for me, because I often don’t want to try to love someone who I don’t agree with, or respect, or am repulsed by, or I’m afraid of. I try to overcome my resistance, but it’s a pretty feeble attempt too often. Jesus’ good news, the gospel, plainly tells me to try my best again and again and again until I finally change for the better.
Shea says, “The Good News is always a meeting of divine word and action with the human heart; and the human heart is always a mixture of readiness and resistance, a combination of waiting flesh and unyielding stone.” I told Cindy a while back that my tombstone should simply be engraved with ‘Paradox.’ My heart is always a mixture of readiness and resistance, of faith and doubt, of acceptance and judgment, of so many conflictions. As Jesus asked, what is commendable about loving someone who loves you? The kingdom of God will not come about until I’m able to love the ones I don’t want to love.
This continual conflict, this crisis, is what God intends for me, though. As Stanford writes, “[T]he kingdom’s demand is not for obedience but for creativity, not for a religion of outward observances but for consciousness….[T]he creative process of the kingdom will not be denied — that if one turns aside the demands of the creative, and seeks to return to a life of unconscious obedience, one’s fate will be worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah. God can be harder on those who are close to him than on those who have never known him, precisely because they may achieve something creative.” Creative means to think in a new way, to bring something new into being. That’s what it takes to bring about the kingdom of God, a new reality. That’s the responsibility of faith and woe to me if I refuse now!