Robert Jenson on the Unconditional Kingdom

From the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson in his short book entitled Story and Promise: Jesus […]

Brandon Bennett / 9.1.15

From the Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson in his short book entitled Story and Promise:

41x-PVfnmzL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Jesus took away from his hearers the possibility of neutralizing God’s futurity, of mitigating its threat and challenge by cutting out a time of their autonomous own in which to plan and prepare for it, and getting it—even a little bit—into present control. He asserted God’s future as uncontrollable and free—as God’s and so as true future….

That is, Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom unconditionally; he left no time to fulfill “if…” clauses. This is what got him into trouble, for it made his message socially and religiously revolutionary. If there are no conditions to be fulfilled for participation in humanity’s fulfillment, then in the end the righteous man has no advantage over the sinner, the respected man no advantage over the proletarian, the believer no advantage over the unbeliever….

Jesus did not merely proclaim to the poor, the publicans, and the sinners that in God’s future they would be new men, he treated them then and there as the new men they would be. His message had nothing in it of ‘pie in the sky by and by.’ This is the point of one of the most pervasive recollections about Jesus’ actions: that he ‘ate with publicans and sinners.’ In all cultures, eating together is an expression of fellowship; in oriental cultures, it creates permanent brotherhood; and in Israel, because of the table prayers, it creates brotherhood before God. Jesus’ chosen brothers before God were the outsiders.

We regulate our relations with our fellows by what they have been; if a teenager is hooked on dope, we do not encourage our children to make him a friend. Jesus did the opposite: he brought his fellows into his life not in terms of what they had been, but of what they would be. And not in terms of what it could be predicted they would be, on the basis of a ‘little bit of good in everyone’ or of what he planned to reform them to, but in terms of what they could be only by God’s miracle. He enacted God’s future as his brothers’ own present.