Today’s Gospel reading comes from Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (Lk 6:20-26). In it, Jesus lays out a vision of the Kingdom of God based on the promise of justice and mercy. The promise makes little sense, however, from an earthly perspective. Jesus calls blessed those who are poor, hungry, suffering, excluded, and denounced as evil “on account of the Son of Man” (22b).
“Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh” (21).
Their present condition will be turned upside down so that they will inherit the Kingdom. Luke wrote for a Gentile audience. Matthew, who relates a similar discourse in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5:3-11), wrote for Jews who had accepted the “New Way” (Acts 9:2). In either case, people must have thought the promise strange.
Throughout history, utopian visions have proved to be dangerous. You only have to consider efforts by religious, millennial, and social groups in Europe and the United States in the past two hundred years to say nothing of earlier attempts to establish a paradise on Earth. The one that is perhaps closest to home is The People’s Temple in Jonestown (1978) in which more than nine hundred people died. Its memory still haunts us.
The biggest problem with the quest for utopia is whose idea of justice and mercy–happiness–will it be based on? Although the relationship between utopia and ideology is not always direct, ideology lurks beneath the surface. Utopias are often built on ideological beliefs and biases. To make matters worse, people consumed by ideology usually have no idea that they are trapped in its closed system. They can’t see past the ideological bent in their noses.
Think of people at the far ends of the political spectrum. Reality exists only through their particular lens. The Left is good at this, because they espouse postmodern, deconstructionist methods right out of Marxist theory. Marx, who turned Hegel upside down, claimed that enslavement of the masses through an economic class system accounted for the world’s suffering. He didn’t say blessed are the poor but cursed are the factory owners.
What comes from this? Anything that alleviates the suffering of the poor and overturns the class system is justified. In true Machiavellian fashion, the ends justify the means. This is why today supposedly responsible legislators can argue for things like restricting speech, eliminating borders, permitting “post-birth” abortions, and retrofitting the domestic infrastructure to the tune of thirty trillion dollars. They justify these positions by pointing to the post-patriarchal/race/class/gender world their policies will create. In fact, the more extreme, the better. After all, no one wants the planet to melt.
Alarmism is a key feature of ideological thinking. Change needs to happen now, and the best way to mobilize the masses is through social media. But the thing about Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like is that you don’t have to be literate or discerning to use them. Just create an account and you’re on your way. The medium (i.e., a glowing screen) takes care of the rest. You can become an instant commentator and advocate for your position, candidate, or cause to your heart’s content. And the number of hearts you get in response becomes a measure of the veracity of your position. Persuasion trumps truth. Then again, in this mindset truth does not exist and anything that furthers the cause (e.g., the Prince, Party) is right.
Most scholars agree that Jesus wasn’t advocating the overthrow of the established order, even though he famously threw over the money changers’ tables in the temple. The promise of justice and mercy in Luke and Matthew points to a future Kingdom, one that is here in the person of Jesus but that has not yet been fulfilled. The “not yet” of the promise distinguishes it from ideological obsession.
You don’t struggle to establish a new order. You wait for the fulfillment of the promise. It’ll happen. Just not yet.
Peace Love image by Jon Tyson on Unsplash. YouTube video Surrender of Lord Cornwallis to Benjamin Lincoln flanked by French (left) and American troops (John Trumbull, oil on canvas, 1820). Tune: The World Turned Upside Down. Happy Presidents’ Day.