The kingdom of God is a key part of Jesus’ message. This kingdom—where God’s will reigns completely—cannot exist apart from justice.
Do Justice, Week 5
This is my fifth and final blog post on biblical justice. I have taken these five main points from our new Learning Together unit “Do Justice,” though I have taken each post in its own direction from there. The previous posts on justice focus on:
- The Foundation: the image of God (Pride Month post on gender identity)
- The Heart and Goal: shalom
- The Target: building resilience in those who are vulnerable
- The Reason: love (in the long-term)
This post reflects on what—to me—is the most exciting part of the gospel message: the promise of the kingdom of God.
In my reading of the Bible (informed by what I have been taught by others), I understand justice to be the ultimate will of God.
As I wrote about in the previous post, this love is not a feeling of fondness or goodwill, but active work toward the benefit of others. This is God’s grace toward us and our obedience to the double commandment of love for God and our neighbors. A world defined by love is a world of shalom: wholeness and flourishing for everyone.
The Centrality of the Kingdom of God
At least in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the concept of the kingdom of God (kingdom of heaven in Matthew) is central to Jesus’ message. It is half of the content of his first proclamation (Matthew 4:17 and Mark 1:14-15, Luke doesn’t mention it first, but the kingdom is specifically stated as Jesus’ topic of the good news in Luke 4:43).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ first recorded teaching is what I have heard called his “mission statement”:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”Luke 4:18-19
What Is the Kingdom of God?
While Jesus spends a lot of time telling parables about the kingdom, I find the simplest definition in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:10.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is an example of synonymous parallelism, a literary device often found in Hebrew poetry. Basically, this means that the two sentences mean the same thing. God’s kingdom coming is the same as God’s will being done. And what is God’s will? That we love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves. Mutual love creates shalom. So, God’s will—God’s kingdom—is when love reigns supreme and every citizen of the world is whole and flourishing. God’s kingdom is justice.
Justice and Repentance
In Jesus’ first proclamation about the kingdom, the announcement that “the kingdom is near” is coupled with the command “repent.” But what do the two have to do with each other and with justice? We can discuss repentance at a different time, but in basic, repentance is about changing your thinking and behavior (both). It is about turning away from our own way of doing things (which will have some level of selfishness) and turning toward God’s way of doing things. God’s way. God’s will. God’s kingdom.
Our way of doing things tends toward selfishness. So, when we create systems (larger ways of doing something), the systems tend toward selfishness. Selfish systems benefit the creators of the system (and their allies/descendants). The more a system benefits one group of people, it harms another group. Selfish systems are therefore unjust and require justice work to change. And turning from a selfish way to God’s way is repentance.
So, justice work, loving in the long-term, is the work of repentance on a larger scale. Individuals aren’t the only ones who need to repent. All types of systems need repentance, too.
Faith Formation and the Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God is at the center of the gospel. As our faith itself is centered on the good news of Jesus, this means that the kingdom of God is at the center of our faith. The next posts I plan to write are on the mission of the church (hint: it has to do with the kingdom), where I plan to go into the connections between the kingdom and faith formation.
However, what is clear here is that justice and the kingdom of God are not tangential to faith formation but at the center of it. This doesn’t mean that every Sunday school lesson needs to be about bringing about justice (or even service, love in action over a short term). But it is also not a subject that can be ignored without truncating our faith and the faith of our participants.
Blessings to you as you do your ministry,
Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
VBS, Summer, and 2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources
At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we have many resources for your faith formation needs:
- Learning Together: Five-lesson topical units for VBS, Sunday school, children, and intergenerational classes.
- Resources for the Narrative Lectionary (products for all ages)
- Resource for the Revised Common Lectionary (intergenerational classroom)
- Cross+Generational Confirmation
- Worship and Liturgy Education