The kingdom of God is like…

“The kingdom of God is like,” Jesus says, and he tells a story.

Stories are how we communicate complex truth in artful ways. I think Jesus and the gospel writers chose stories because the kingdom of God cannot fit into a simple definition. It is multi-faceted, deeply rooted, richly layered – and Jesus leans into this reality with his semantic choice.

Christianity throughout the centuries, in its quest to acquire power and relevance amid various cultural and national empires, has aligned the kingdom of God with a particular group or tribe. The kingdom of God is this country or this ideology or this church. But amid the rancor and entrenchment that develops because of such provincialism, Jesus continues to speak in stories telling us, not what God’s kingdom is, but what it is like.

The closest Jesus arrives to answering a question of timing or location instead of metaphor is when he is pressed by Pharisees as he nears Jerusalem for the final time. “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed,” he said. “Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is.’” He went on, “Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.”

In an age when Christianity in the United States is increasingly tied to political partisanship and nationalistic tribalism, it is more helpful than ever to be reminded of Jesus’ kingdom-speak. It isn’t something that squares with the propaganda of any one group advocating its prominence and conquest over another. Despite the overuse of the word, it is a radical transcendence of all the dividing walls and fences of our age and every age. It is a shared practice, something already among us, as Jesus said –an almost primal belief in the power of love-that-is-God to see beyond ourselves to the humanity and dignity of the other.

“The kingdom of God is like,” Jesus says, and he tells a story.

Over the coming weeks I will reflect on Jesus’ stories in which he describes the dream of God’s glorious reign of justice and peace. They will be pastoral thoughts on our current political and cultural climate and how Jesus’ beautiful descriptions of the kingdom can help us rise above the chaos and darkness that seems to be eclipsing our world.