Recently, I suggested that it must have been frustrating to be Jesus. We were looking at the story of the commissioning of the disciples and what followed that was a remarkable example of just how well things weren’t going for Jesus. He remarks about several places he spent time in, doing what Jesus does, and it didn’t result in their repentance. He’d warned the disciples that this – and far worse – could happen. But, on this occasion, I think you get a little of the sense that even Jesus found it frustrating. And we do, too, when we’re being Jesus. It’s only human.
But let’s be fair. It must also have been frustrating or, at the very least, hard work to be Jesus’ audience when he was teaching. Jesus challenged pretty much everything. And, for as often as we say things like “Jesus really knew how to talk to people,” “Jesus uses examples of things and language that ordinary folks could connect with,” or “Jesus liked to tell stories people could relate to,” I’m not sure that we recognize just what that means. Just because people got the point doesn’t mean they liked it. Even the disciples weren’t always supportive of how relentlessly challenging Jesus could be.
That might be something we miss when we hear the story in the fragmented, Sunday-by-Sunday way in which we tend to hear scripture. We hear a little story, we study it and extract what meaning we can – or, sometimes, want – and we hope to bring that meaning into our lives. And in the great scheme of life, that might effect some little change and be satisfied with that. We might say “a seed’s been planted” or we’ve taken “baby steps” or “a little bit at a time” is enough.
Does the life of Jesus say that, though? Jesus calls people to repentance, to turn away from sin and turn to living out the good which is in them, to live as the image of God in the world rather than the world’s image of God. Jesus commissions the disciples – and us – not to occasional random acts of Jesusing, but to be Jesus in the world in our own way. Jesus asks us to live into the image of God everyday as a way of living, without the expectation of a perfect standard, but simply the perfectness that we are.
That’s not a little bit of change, that’s a lot of change. That’s a paradigm shift. A sea change. And that’s tricky, to say the least. Despite the fact that change is also relentless and happening every moment, we don’t like it much and we’ll resist it. Jesus asks us to engage it and to do so from that image of God, that factory setting of good, that’s in us. That’s what brings the kingdom of God, that Jesus talks about, here.
And that’s a big part of the frustration. Jesus doesn’t give a clear definition of what it is exactly, the kingdom of God. We’d like to know the end result that will be gained in order for us to put in all that work and all we get are a bunch similes in parable form. In Matthew 13, Jesus says the kingdom of God is like seed a farmer casts anywhere or like good seed that’s overgrown by weeds, it’s like a mustard seed, it’s like yeast in bread, it’s like a buried treasure to be found, it’s like a valuable pearl to be acquired, it’s like a fishing net that catches a great many different fish, good and bad. It’s as if Jesus doesn’t have a precise description of the kingdom of God.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. Because perhaps the answer isn’t in the anticipated end result, but the process. All these parables demand a radical new perspective. They require a different understanding and a revaluing of things. They ask that we see things with a heart and mind in the image of God, not just the world we know. That’s what gives us a vision of the kingdom of God through the lens of possible.