Opinion Columns & Blogs

First words of Jesus

Mark’s gospel gives us the very first words spoken by Jesus in the gospels. “The Kingdom of God is coming; change your thinking!” Even though it was written 40 years after Jesus died, it’s the first time an evangelist had collected and written down the “memories of Jesus.” The other three gospels come decades later.

Of all the other things Mark could have written — he chose this. He could have started with the stories of the birth of Jesus, like Matthew and Luke, or the divinity of Jesus, like John, but he picked instead, the message of Jesus: The Kingdom of God is coming; change your thinking! What in the world did this mean? I know Jesus didn’t say this in Greek; if he spoke these words at all (and I think he must have said something like this), they were in Aramaic and Mark translated this Aramaic memory into Greek.

Change your thinking.” The Greek word is “Metanoia.” “Repent” comes close, but our modern American usage makes us miss the point; I can repent and feel sorry for sexually harassing my young secretary because I got caught, but unless I have “changed my thinking” I’ll probably do it again. Jesus is calling for his Jewish listeners to change the way they think about “The Kingdom.” Okay, but what Kingdom is he talking about?

I can’t find any reference to the “Kingdom of God” in the Old Testament. Many kingdoms are mentioned: Israel’s, (2 Kings 7:13) David’s, (Isaiah 9:7) and the one belonging to Cyrus the Persian, (Dan. 13:65) but none identified as the Kingdom of Yahweh.

Many writers like Reza Aslan who wrote “The Zealot,” feel certain he was instigating a political revolt and his new kingdom would replace Rome’s. I understand what Reza is saying; many of the Jesus quotes could lean that way, and we know Jesus was crucified by the Romans as a revolutionary. But I don’t think that’s it. Asking his followers to change their passive thinking about the Roman occupation and to strap on swords and join the rebels would run counter to the rest of his teachings. So, what kind of a kingdom would this be?

Mark doesn’t wait long to tell us. One of the Scribes tries to entice Jesus into a Scripture-quoting- contest (Mark 12:28). Instead of quoting “one un-related text after the other” (as many Christians do today) Jesus defines the Kingdom of God: “It’s simple. Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s it. A community of loving people. That’s his new Kingdom.

It’s not a political army and it’s not a church where the Nicaean creed is the litmus test. This community can be populated by Jews or Gentiles or Agnostics, and the only criterion for admission is to love God (wherever you find God) and to love your neighbor as yourself. That means to affirm the worth of all women and men and to encourage them to think for themselves. It means to respect the differences between people (that’s what love means) and affirm every person as an individual. I think this is what it means to live and work in a Christian community.

I know many readers will reject my interpretation of sacred scripture. Based on their own religious bias, they will interpret the words of Jesus about his Kingdom in a different way. And that’s OK. The truth remains, his Kingdom is his message. About this, there can be no discussion. The Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven in Matthew’s gospel, is mentioned 89 times, and nearly all the 50 parables Jesus spins are about this new kingdom. The only question is: What does it mean?

My opinion is: it’s a community of love. What’s your opinion?

Contact me: drc@billcummings.org.