Friday, June 16, 2006

But how is the kingdom of heaven like that?

(leaving this for what may well be the weekend)

the force of democrary, commits it, in the name of universal equality, to representing not only the greatest force of the greatest number, the majority of citizens considered of age, but also the weakness of the weak, minors, minorities, the poor, and all those throughout the world who call out in suffering for a legitimately infinite extension of what are called human rights. One electoral law is thus always at the same time more and less democratic than another; it is the force of force, a weakness of force and the force of a weakness; which means that democracy protects itself and maintains itself precisely by limiting and threatening itself.
Jacques Derrida

What is the kingdom of heaven like? It is like a man who finds a pearl of great price and, selling all he has, buys the pearl. It is like a man who discovers treasure in a field and, hiding it again, goes and buys the field. It is like a woman who looks all night for a lost coin and, finding it, wakes all the neighbors and throws a party for the recovery of the coin.

How is the kingdom of heaven like that?

It is more precariously placed than Derrida's description of democracy: the first are last, the last first; the rich are sent away empty, the poor are welcomed in, the hungry are fed, and the fed sent off without food, and it all ruled over by the ultimate force of weakness, which displays ultimately the weakness of force. And it protects itself and proclaims itself and perpetuates itself precisly through faith in a God who resolutely does not come down and set fire to brush or encloud the mountains as in days of old, but says only and precisely: Feed my sheep. Follow me. Who do you say that I am?

It is a kingdom that exists only by faith. Not by knowledge, experience, practice, reward, or prior knowledge: only by faith. Why did the disciples follow when Jesus said "Come"? Why did they drop their nets and leave their boats and not even bother to kiss their father good-bye, but simply walked away? Why was it so important they do that much? When the man quite reasonably said to Jesus' invitation "Let me bury my father first," Jesus said "Leave the dead to bury the dead, but you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

How? How could he? What did he know then, that he didn't know before? And if he knew it, why did he hesitate?

When the next person invited said "Let me finish plowing this field" Jesus said: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven." Why not? What is it about looking back that is so bad? Is it because that's where the future comes from, and we should not look to the future, only the present? Is it because back, is where the past lies, and we should be pilgrims and pioneers in this strange new land in which we will be strangers? It is said that in Abraham's day, the past was before you, because that was known; the future came up behind you, because that was unknown, could never be known, until it was before you; and then it became the past. Perhaps Abraham broke that bond for us, unstuck us in time, when he left his family and his father's land and all that was before him (and certain, because it was known from time past, long time past) and went to the new land that this voice, this "God," promised to give him, along with a promise of children to secure it. But descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and what kind of promise is that? A grand legacy, to be sure, but it means nothing to the here and now, to the daily effort of eking out a nomad's living.

How is the kingdom of heaven like that?

The kingdom of heaven seems always to be perched on this fulcrum, this not-yet-here but already-coming-to-be. Not-yet-here because we know this is hardly the kingdom of heaven; how could it be? How could it be a kingdom at all, and not be established in power and majesty and pomp and circumstance, after a complete world war and with a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, pure and holy and not at all of this earth, so that it is perfect, and the reign of God over it perfect? How can it be maintained and protected except through the awesome and final power of God, the power that Milton says swept the defiant angels from Heaven and sent them hurtling through space, unstoppable and unable to stop, until they reached the end of space, as far from Heaven as they could go, and so fell into the fires of Hell?

But how is the kingdom of God like that? How does the kingdom protect itself and maintain itself without also limiting itself? How can it not be "a legitimately infinite extension of what are called human rights," if it is the kingdom of heaven? It is the place where the first are last and the last first, the place where all are finally equal, and the lion lies down the the lamb, and the child plays over the hole of the asp, and no one is hurt, ever, ever, ever again. How can that be, without force? But it must be without force, or the first are not last, they are just lost, and the last are not first, they are just new rulers. Which means it only exists precisely by limiting itself; or it is a lie. Or else it is merely a pearl of great price which leaves you without any money to buy food, or clothes, or shelter. Else it is a treasure you dare not uncover, lest everyone know you for a cheat and a scoundrel; else it is just like the world, and the kingdom of heaven can never, ever, be just like that.

But it is not apart from the world, either; because the world is God's creation, and God's creation is good. So the kingdom of heaven is a matter of faith; of faith, and practice. It is not in you; but it is among you. You are not the kingdom of heaven; but you are a part of the kingdom of heaven. It is as delicately placed as a flower petal, or a china cup; and it is as firmly implanted and secure as the roots of the mountains or the cellars of the sea. It is...well, what is it? What is the kingdom of heaven like?

No comments:

Post a Comment