A Powerful Kingdom of Poverty
Genesis 10, Luke 9
I’m not a little behind on these, but I promise I have been doing the reading. I actually have notes for several days’ worth of writing. I’ve just been wiped out lately and unmotivated to write. Nevertheless, today I’m in the mood to write. Today mostly focuses on Luke 9.
I love that Jesus called his disciples together and ‘gave them power.’ But he didn’t give them power for the sake of giving them power. No, he gave them a vocation as well: Power was accompanied by authority to drive out demons. Ability and responsibility. Power is never an exclusive possession. Power is a gift given to be administered in service to those who lack power—in this case, those who didn’t know the Kingdom; those who were sick. Power and proclamation seem to go hand in hand, and here the power is given for both purposes.
Jesus sent them out with nothing but power and proclamation (1-6) and after they returned, it was these two that still remained (10-11). Jesus models for his disciples what he expects them to do and be to those who come to him.
Later (49-50) we learn that this power is not an exclusive power for a few close people. Jesus’ power is spread about for his purposes, and to accomplish his ends.
As the chapter moves on, we learn about the cost of following Jesus and this cost is not cheap. There is power, yes; and authority, yes; and responsibility, yes. But there is more, and the more doesn’t just come in verses 57-62. Underlying this chapter is the simple fact that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem (51) and even before that Jesus has said twice (I don’t like the term ‘predicts’) that he is going there to die (21-22 & 43-45). So the cost of following Jesus is no small investment. It will involve all our being. There are no shortcuts. As I looked at this chapter and saw how Jesus interacted with his disciples and the things he said, I became convinced that following Jesus is not for the faint of heart.
He is going to Jerusalem (51). We go forth with nothing but power and proclamation (1ff). There will be little rest (10-11). Ours is a cross life (23ff). There will be heights of glory that we misunderstand and misinterpret (28-36). We will fail (37-43). We will be rebuked (55). We will not be great (48). We will not be exclusive (50). We will travel through the land of opposition (53). We will be homeless, discipleship will be urgent, and there will be no time for anything else (57-62). Truly, being a disciple of Jesus is an effort, not something for those who are inclined to give in easily when the pressures of said discipleship start pressing in all around us.
In the midst of all this talk of discipleship is talk of crucifixion. I count three times if you include the talk in verse 31 about his ‘departure.’ It is interesting to me that so much of the Kingdom talk in this chapter is mingled with crucifixion talk. Another serious implication to our discipleship is that we are following a Jesus who was going to the cross, going to Jerusalem, who had ‘set his face like flint’ towards that place. Strangely enough, he warns us that if we continue following him through Samaritan territory and on to Jerusalem we too must ‘take up our cross daily’ and follow.
And this Kingdom talk is also all mixed up with talk about opposition and poverty and rejection. How can power be woven into a conversation about weakness? What kind of Kingdom is this that Jesus is building? What sort of kingdom does he expect ‘us’ to go out and proclaim? Does he really expect to win people over to this kingdom when all he talks about is crucifixion, rejection, opposition, homelessness, no bags, no staff, no bread, no coins, and no turning back? “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I’m not a little afraid of this. Who can accept it? This is just not the sort of kingdom that most people are looking for today and yet we are supposed to, in some way, and with power and authority, proclaim it! How can we reconcile our concept of kingdom as power, wealth, influence and politics with Jesus’ idea that kingdom is poverty, opposition, hiddenness, shared-influence, crucifixion, poverty, loving enemies, carrying crosses, childlike humility and dependence? Jesus’ idea of kingdom is nothing like the one we have constructed and continue to construct.
Jesus told his disciples to preach the kingdom and care for the poor (sick). We have preached affluence and ignored the poor. Jesus said we are armed only with the word and healing. No sandals. No bags. No staffs. No nothing that might suggest power, influence, or self-sufficiency. In other words, we go out armed with nothing that will suggest the kingdom is of ourselves or our making or that it is anything other than what it is: A kingdom of the cross.
That is power!
He gave his disciples power and yet told them that power would not gain them a home, friends, position, immunity from trouble, exemption from the cross or anything else of that sort. Those who are given the power of Christ are still expected, and must necessarily, live the life of crucifixion. The power and authority give by Jesus to preach and heal is to build up the kingdom of God—not the kingdom of self.
“Taking up the cross is not a merely passive operation. It comes about as the church attempts, in the power of the Spirit, to be for the world what Jesus was for the world—announcing his kingdom, healing the wounds of the world, challenging the power structures that keep anger and pain in circulation. We need to pray that we will have the courage, as a church and a Christian persons, to follow the Servant King wherever he leads. That, after all, is why we come to his table. We have seen in our century what happens when people dream wild dreams of world domination, and use the normal methods of force and power to implement them. We have not yet seen what might happen if those who worship the Servant King, now enthroned as Lord of the world, were to take him seriously enough to take up our cross and follow him” (Following Jesus, NT Wright, 51)