Religion and Power Were Intertwined. Then Jesus Challenged It All. | Sojourners

Religion and Power Were Intertwined. Then Jesus Challenged It All.

Each of us must choose our kingdom.

Jesus talked about kingdom as much as anything else. He was born into the realm of Caesar, a place run by the empire’s values of violence, dominance, supremacy, wealth, privilege, and self-interest. Life was cheap and economic injustice was rampant.

The empire’s leaders acted in narcissistic ways. As John Dominic Crossan notes in his book God and Empire, Caesar Augustus assumed the titles of liberator, savior, redeemer, and lord. He saw himself as the divinely chosen leader of the greatest empire.

Caesar’s supporters praised him constantly and advanced his agenda. His base of support included religious leaders who were co-opted into doing the empire’s bidding in exchange for maintaining their own wealth, power, and privilege.

Religion and Rome were intertwined, working together to advance the empire. Then Jesus came along and challenged it all.

Essentially, Jesus said, you’ve already been born into Caesar’s kingdom, and now it’s time to enter a totally different one. You need to be born again into God’s kingdom, a place that operates by values in stark contrast to those of Caesar.

God’s kingdom is a place of unlimited love and unending compassion. It’s a place where everyone is welcomed — especially the marginalized — and nobody is treated like an outcast.

It’s a place where healing is offered to all, peacemaking is valued over warmongering, and the lowly and the least are treated as the greatest. The operating values of Caesar's kingdom — power, greed, wealth, privilege, self-interest — are rejected in God’s realm.

Which one will we choose? Whose values will we live and enact and advocate in our communities and our world? It can’t be both. And we can’t try to live with one foot in both — that doesn’t work.

It’s one or the other.

We can’t avoid choosing. To simply go along with the status quo is to support those who rule over it. If we don’t challenge Caesar, we are in league with Caesar — we’ve chosen his kingdom.

We can’t delay choosing, either. Jesus said the kingdom of God isn’t a future event. It’s already in our midst. We’re invited to become part of it at this very moment. The entrance to God’s kingdom isn’t religious rules or doctrines. Our hearts are the door, and we enter and enact God’s kingdom through love and love alone.

As Crossan puts it: “God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”

Everyone is invited to join — there are no barriers, no borders, no walls — but citizenship comes at a cost. God’s kingdom unavoidably confronts and challenges the many Caesars in our world, along with their supporters and their religious minions.

They’ll use Caesar’s methods — bullying, harassment, intimidation, self-promotion, lying, verbal, and physical violence — to protect their privilege and power. The gospels tell us that Rome and its religious minions conspired to try to get rid of Jesus and his advocacy for God’s competing kingdom. The same thing happens today.

At times, it feels like Caesar’s kingdom is invincible and will have the final say. That’s not true at all. Good Friday is always followed by Easter morning.

In those moments when we have trouble recognizing God’s kingdom in our world and our lives, Jesus says: Look a little closer, love a little stronger, believe a little deeper. It’s right here.

And you are invited to enter this place of life, love, and healing right now.