August 30, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 16:16-17.
“The law and the prophets lasted until John; but from then on the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone who enters does so with violence. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid.”
The history of salvation before John the Baptist was the age of promise for Israel while the coming of Jesus marked God’s fulfillment of His promises. I’ve noted before that one scholar calls John the hinge of salvation history. The Sacra Pagina translates “everyone who enter does so with violence” as “everyone is being urged to enter it.” Luke Timothy Johnson in The Gospel of Luke notes that this could also be translated as everyone “struggles to enter.” That makes more sense to me and gives me a clue as to what I think Jesus is telling me.
When I am sincerely trying to change my attitude and behavior it causes a kind of violence within me. It’s as if I am at war within myself. The way I’ve always thought and done things doesn’t give way easily to new ways. Change is always disruptive even when it is clearly for my own good. Jesus turned everything upside down. For the past two years in writing these reflections that’s what he’s been doing to me, turning my assumptions and usual ways upside down. It’s because he wants me to live in the kingdom now. It’s a struggle for me much of the time and sometimes feel violent. He certainly recognized the difficulty and didn’t shy away from warning his listeners.
So, what does this next verse mean? Even Johnson confesses that the gospel writer’s use of words here, “makes determining Luke’s intended meaning all the more difficult.” It could be that in the first age of salvation before John God insisted on the law as a kind of stern discipline necessary to establish a new moral order. It had to be given to the Jews as an external code before they could internalize it and live their lives in a different way, worshipping only God and refraining from indulging their basest desires. Thus, the shall nots in the ten commandments. With Jesus a new age begins. It’s not the law is invalid, it’s that it must be an internal value system that drives our behaviors in order for us to live in the kingdom.
John Sanford in The Kingdom Within puts it this way, “The kingdom requires a morality that is not founded on rules and regulations imposed from outside but on self-knowledge. This self-knowledge can be achieved through inner confrontation. The inner confrontation occurs when we confront the person within us for whom the Law is necessary. It would be necessary to have a Law forbidding murder, adultery, stealing, coveting, and slander if there were not a part of our personality that might do exactly these things….It is this self-confrontation that leads to commitment to the inner way of the kingdom and to the realization that the kingdom of God is a process, a journey, a work of life….This need for confrontation for those who would belong to the kingdom is of paramount importance to Jesus….The personal, psychological aspect of the kingdom of God is clearly emphasized by Jesus in his repeated insistence that the new life required by the kingdom is so radical that it amounts to a complete change and renewal of personality.”
A complete change provokes a violent reaction. It’s not a smooth, easy process. That’s why I refer to it as my faith journey. It’s a process and the work of my life. Most of the time it’s two steps forward and one step back, but sometimes it’s one step forward and two steps back when I stubbornly cling to my old ways and unconsciously fight like hell against entering the kingdom. I think we see that continuously playing out in the collective unconscious of our nation as well. Jesus is still talking to us. Do we have ears to listen?