When it came time for Jesus to preach and teach, his most frequent theme was the kingdom of God (or in Matthew, the Kingdom of heaven). A reminder may be in order: the kingdom of heaven is not first and foremost about where we go after we die but about God’s sovereign, saving rule here on earth (as the Lord’s prayer asks: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). The kingdom of heaven (God) is the range of God’s effective will, everywhere God’s authority is acknowledged, wherever God’s calls the shots, and anyplace people and their communities honor God’s will. Many of Jesus’ parables talked about God’s kingdom, inviting his readers to reflect on their participation in and engagement with God’s kingdom reign in the present.
I wonder what metaphor Jesus would have chosen if he were communicating to today’s world. My guess is probably not “kingdom”, since in our world we have democracies, republics, and nation states. Instead of kings and queens, we (mostly) have presidents, prime ministers, and premiers. As the brilliant communicator he is, Jesus would choose a metaphor with contemporary currency. One possible metaphor is that of God’s dream. (For what follows, I must give credit to Brian McLaren’s inspiration and insight.)
Consider: What dreams, desires, and visions does God have for the world? A mother today, has a dream for her child; an artist has great dreams for a symphony he’s creating; a teacher has big dreams for her students. God, too, has a will, a dream, for how his creatures live on earth. The dream metaphor can also be a helpful way to envision evil and sin in the world—these are God’s nightmares. When God created our world, God wasn’t dreaming of prisons and kidnapping, child abuse and racism, greed and poverty, pollution and exploitation, narcissism and chaos. God’s dream was for freedom and creativity, kindness and justice, generosity and peace, hospitality and harmony.
Such a metaphor gives us a responsible and creative role to play. If we dream of controlling others, abusing the world God made, ignoring the poor, or perpetuating hatred, we are ruining God’s dream. The call to discipleship is the call to trust God’s dreams enough to realign our dreams with God’s. When we are baptized, we are declaring to the world that we are embracing the dream of God and that we will be active in helping God’s dreams come about in our corner of the world.
What metaphor would you use to convey the meaning of the kingdom of God to contemporary ears? Would you envision the Kingdom as the story of God? Or the school of God? How about the symphony of God? God’s team? God’s revolution? The table of God? May God grant us fruitful images to help us envision and embody the holy purposes he has for us in following Jesus and serving in the world today.