Citizens of the Kingdom

Once a Russian Orthodox priest told me, "We know where the Church is, but we don’t know where it isn’t.” 

At times when Jesus taught, the crowds became extremely polarized. There were those who wanted to kill him, and there were those who hung on his every word. What is surprising is that the former were religious leaders who claimed to love God. Yet when God walked in their streets…

“And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel... so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34

Are labels and denominational affiliations reliable indicators of where to find the children of the Kingdom? In Jesus’s day, if you asked who was the most spiritual crowd around, many might point to the Pharisees, known for their zeal and strictness in observing the finer points of religious tradition. Yet, Jesus was scathing in his denunciation of them. On the other hand, Jesus pronounced some seemingly scandalous people justified before God. He described the traits of those to whom the Kingdom belonged:

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  —Matthew 5:2-12

Some of these terms get a bit lost in translation.

Poor in spirit -- Read the story in Luke 8:9-14.
Meekness is confused with weakness, but the opposite is true. It is voluntarily deferring to another, not insisting on your rights. It is not using the power you have at your disposal out of love for the other person. Read Philippians 2:3-11.

How do you think the Pharisees stacked up to these markers of true spirituality? Read Matthew 23.  How have things changed today?  

Did the tax collector in Luke 8:9-14 understand the Gospel? Was he right with God?

Comments welcome.


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