No Show

Some Pharisees asked Jesus when God’s kingdom would come. He answered, “God’s kingdom isn’t something you can see.” (Luke 17:20)

I hate it when Jesus goes all elusive on you. Considering how slow we humans are to get stuff, you’d think that he’d go for the obvious a little more often. But nooo. Jesus wants to be mysterious. Jesus wants to be inscrutable. Jesus wants to be downright esoteric.

What makes it worse is that sometimes Jesus can’t even seem to keep his own story straight. I mean, he does all these special effects—you know, healing the sick, casting out demons, walking on water, feeding 5000—as signs that he’s the real McCoy. Signs are something you see that point you in the right direction. That’s what they’re for. It’s not like Jesus doesn’t get that. At one point he tells the Jews that “even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles.” That’s the whole point of the miracles in the first place, so you can see that the kingdom of God is within shooting distance.

The guy’s pulling a schizoid here. Now he’s saying that you can’t see this thing. It’s invisible. You can’t point to it because it’s not out there. Now it’s inside. I guess Jesus didn’t have time to work up a consistent systematic theology before he had to take the show on the road. Not that this is all bad. Jesus is really good at winging it most of the time. Take the calming the storm thing. Now, being Jesus, he could have prearranged some nice weather no problem. This would have avoided a general disciple freak out and kept them all dry to boot. But Jesus is just too tired to think ahead, so tired, in fact, that he crashes like a dead guy in the boat. Even the storm doesn’t wake him up. But when his disciples finally shake him awake he does this Clint Eastwood cool thing like “What a bunch of weenies” and turns off the hurricane just like that. The boys are blown away (hah!) and Jesus cops a little extra glory out of the deal. So it’s clear that Jesus can pull one out of the hat once in a while.

Of course, not everything can just be thrown together on the fly. The crucifixion thing, for example, required lots of planning. You had to coordinate the Jewish leaders and the Romans (a major issue in those days), and you definitely had to plan ahead for the actual execution since crosses were usually reserved days in advance. It would have been a major religious faux pas if Jesus would have had to wait for an available cross until after Passover. This would have mucked up the symbolism and would have thrown the whole Christian holiday schedule off.

Anyway, Jesus (probably feeling a little rushed) turns the whole kingdom thing inside out—well, actually, outside in. What he does is turn the kingdom into a subjective experience. Before, the kingdom was about healing lepers and kicking demonic butt, stuff you could point to. Now it’s about inner vibe. I’m not saying that demons have nothing to worry about anymore. What I am saying is that Jesus has just made Woodstock possible. Let the sunshine in and all that.

This new vibe thing has some decided advantages. Now it’s not so much what I do that matters (which you could see), but it’s how I feel inside about the God thing. Now that the kingdom is measured by vibe, nobody can tell me I am or am not a Christian. It’s what I think that matters. So what if I have little to show for it? It’s not about that anymore. I am a Christian if I feel like one, dammit. Case closed.

If Jesus would have had more time to think about what he was saying, he might have left the laws of evidence as they were. The rule “seeing is believing” worked really well for a long time. In his haste Jesus flipped that upside down and now we’ve got “believing is believing.” Maybe this wasn’t his intention, but it ultimately served to keep Christianity possible in this day and age. Still, I bet his dad gave him a major shakedown for it when he got back home.

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