The Naked Man – pt. 14

mustard seeds“So if Jesus is not like Simon bar Giora, what kind of ‘rebel’ was he?” asked Yiftach. “What was he fighting against?” Mark lifted his cup to his lips as he considered how to respond to Yiftach’s question. “I think it is not so much what Jesus was fighting against, but what he was fighting for. And his weapons were not the sword and the dagger, but his words.” Yiftach frowned as he responded. “Very well. What was he fighting for?” Mark responded, “Jesus made that clear from the very beginning. After John had been taken into custody by Herod, Jesus came back to Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, saying,

‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’

“This is the good news that Jesus proclaimed, that he fought for, if you like: that the kingdom of God has drawn near – a kingdom unlike any we have known before, even those who lived during the reign of King Solomon himself. For the kingdom of God turns the world as we know it on its head. The gospel is not good news for the powerful as the world understands power: but it is good news for those who suffer at the hands of the powerful. Like the vast majority of Jesus’ neighbors in Galilee. Like, I imagine, most of the people you love and care about Yiftach.”

“Which is why I joined with Simon bar Giora, to drive the Romans out of our land, so our people might live under our own king once more! Maybe even under the reign of Messiah himself, in a kingdom that will have no end.”

Simeon spoke up. “Yiftach, we believe that Jesus is Messiah, and that the kingdom of God is already here.” Yiftach leapt to his feet. “Where?! Where is this ‘kingdom’?” He gestured beyond the walls. “Whose legions are those camped outside this city? You speak nonsense.” He crossed his arms and looked defiantly towards Mark, who smiled sympathetically at Yiftach’s question. “This is how Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God, my friend:

‘How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when it is sown, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that the birds of the air can nest under its shade.’

“The kingdom of God is here – but like a tiny mustard seed, barely visible. But one day it will grow into a great tree, under whose canopy the most vulnerable will find a home. Such as those who make their home in Galilee.” Yiftach greeted these words by shaking his head as he sat down once more.

Mark turned to address the wider group. “What is life like for our neighbors to the north? And for some of you gathered here tonight? Is it not a daily struggle to survive? To grow enough food to feed your families; to save seed for next year, and enough to barter with your neighbors for that odd tool you need, or to loan to a neighbor in need?”

One of Yiftach’s companions called out. “Huh! That’s if you own the land. What if you’re the youngest son, and there’s not enough land for your father to give you? I’ll tell you what happens. You end up in the hills with the likes of Simon bar Giora, on the run from the very people who have slowly gobbled up your family’s land because you couldn’t pay the taxes. Or the rent.”

“And don’t forget the tithes!” another voice added. “A tenth of your harvest for the priests. A tenth of the remainder for the Levites. And the taxes and tariffs when you take your produce to the markets.” Mimicking Yiftach, he gestured beyond the walls. “And the Romans don’t allow for any of that when they tax us.” He snorted. “But what do the people who live in these grand houses around us care about that? The priestly aristocracy seems to do very nicely under Roman rule. But all that’s in danger, now that we’ve refused to offer sacrifices for the emperor in the temple any longer – and so they’ve had to welcome one of us in hopes of saving themselves from both the wrath of the Romans, and the brutality of the Zealots.”

The man’s words hung in the air for a while before Mark responded. “Which is why the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is not the restoration of the Davidic kingdom as we have understood it. For even Solomon’s temple was built on the backs of rural laborers forced to abandon their fields for months on end to slave away on the construction of that grand edifice. Just as is true for the construction of this temple, Herod the Great’s attempt to recapture the glory of Solomon’s reign. The kingdom of God does not belong to the likes of Herod. Or to those who benefit most from the temple state.”

“Then who does the kingdom belong to?” asked Yiftach. “On one occasion,” said Mark, “some mothers brought their children to Jesus so that he might bless them, but Jesus’ disciples rebuked them for doing so. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant, and said to them,

‘Permit the children to come to me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.’”

Mark stepped across to where his mother was sitting, and lifted his drowsy youngest great-nephew into his arms. “And Jesus took the children in his arms and began blessing them, laying his hands on them.” Seeing Yiftach shaking his head in confusion once more, Mark said gently, “As I said, the kingdom of God turns the kingdoms of the world upside-down.” Mark turned to address the whole group. “Perhaps that thought is a good one to leave you with tonight. If you will return tomorrow evening, I will tell you what Jesus did when he returned from the wilderness to Galilee…”

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