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The Upside-Down Kingdom

This Friday,we will hear once again the story of how Jesus was (unfairly) tried and executed. He spent his ministry primarily in the villages and towns of Israel, preaching to the poor, the peasants, the farmers. He has spoken openly about liberation – liberation from an oppressive political system and liberation from an oppressive religious system.

His procession into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey was planned. Jesus deliberately picked a day when the city would be filled with two hundred thousand Jewish pilgrims or more arriving for the Passover festival. He also knew that the city would be occupied heavily by Roman soldiers to keep the peace (or keep the peasants under control). He chose to enter the city on the foal of a donkey, borrowing the symbolism from the prophet Zechariah who promised that the king would arrive into Jerusalem “humble, and riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (9:9) And clearly someone had alerted the festival goers because they were ready for him, lining the streets, palm branches waving, cloaks at the ready to throw in his path.

Interestingly enough, the prophet Zechariah also talked about what kind of king would be arriving. He would be a king who banished war form the land – no more war horses, chariots, or bows. He would be a king of peace.

What the people expected of Jesus though was a warrior king who ruled by might. This isn’t surprising since in recent history they had taken up arms against the Greeks who ruled over Israel and banned the practice of Judaism, slaughtering those who resisted. Led by Judas “the Maccabee” (literally, “the hammer”), zealous Jews donned the sword and fought for their right to worship and rule. It took a few decades and much violence, but they eventually reclaimed their religious and political freedom.

The Jewish people were expecting Jesus to be another Maccabee, a stronger, better hammer… so good, in fact, that they believed he was the Messiah who would liberate them once and for all from the Romans, and bring them into a time of peace where they would rule their own land.

Jesus’ procession deliberately embodied an alternate vision. Yes, he was positioning himself as a King, but his was the kingdom of God (not the Kingdom of whoever has the most weapons, biggest army, and greatest power). The Kingdom of God is first and foremost found within each of us. It is the connection that we have with the Divine that spills out of us in a way that brings the love, grace, forgiveness and light of God into the world.

Socially and politically and even religiously, the Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom, backwards from what the people in Jesus’ time were expecting. The kingdom Jesus wants to usher in disrupts the status quo of society and religion and turns the systems of power and the hierarchy on their collective ear. His kingdom is built on a God of unconditional love and a God of Grace.

Just think about all the crazy things Jesus said in his teaching that were really hard to hear:  love your enemy, do good to those who hate you, turnt he other cheek, leaders are servants, humility is exalted, the first shall be last, forgive seventy times seven times, weakness is power. No one likes any of those things. Plus, he spoke with women and took children on his knee, he touched the leper, ate with sinners… he treated everyone equally!   

Jesus has always been and will probably always be counter-cultural, upside-down and inside-out from what we’re used to.

It’s amazing that his beautiful vision was so threatening as to get him killed. Now we must continue that mission in our time. Every act of kindness, caring and inclusiveness helps to get to create the kingdom of God right here, right now.

The Upside-Down Kingdom focuses on “we” not on “me.” It challenges each of us to live lives of compassion, hospitality, grace, and forgiveness. To focus on the positive, not the negative, to have a generous regard for others instead of being judgmental, to invite others in, instead of shutting them out. It challenges us to get past racism, homophobia, ageism, sexism and so many other isms, and to see all people as sacred.

Seek this first within yourself, align your thoughts, your hopes, your dreams with the Kingdom of God which is love, grace and mercy. Then let that spill out into your families, your communities, your world. Each little piece creates a more beautiful, harmonious, divine-filled world.

Love & Light!