Thinking Anew – Community counts in a fragmented society
The Christian gospel is about inclusive community. Photograph: Milan Marjanovic/iStock
In today’s confused world, it is interesting to reflect on the wisdom of Albert Schweitzer, theologian, musician and missionary doctor, who argued that the Christian concept of the kingdom of God was of enormous importance.
“Modern faith finds the beginning of the kingdom of God in Jesus and in the Spirit which came into the world with him. We no longer leave the fate of mankind to be decided at the end of the world. The time in which we live summons us to new faith in the kingdom of God. We are no longer content . . . to believe in the kingdom that comes of itself at the end of time. Mankind today must either realise the kingdom of God or perish.”
In tomorrow’s gospel reading Jesus tells the parable of the talents, how a wealthy man entrusts his property in varying proportions to his servants.
On return he finds, that with one exception, they had made good profits with what they had been given. The failed servant simply buried his portion and handed it back. Seemingly he is condemned for not making more money: “ . . . . you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return, I would have received what was my own with interest.”
If this parable is about making money it conflicts with the core teaching of Jesus that a dependence on material possessions is mistaken.
But this is not about money or wealth: this is a parable about total commitment to the values of the kingdom of God, the new order of justice and peace, and a willingness to take risks for it.
Earlier this year, in a Lenten address, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, commented on the negative impact on society when money becomes the sole measure of who and what a person is: “The degree to which money – Mammon – is enthroned in each of our lives is uncomfortably revealed by the degree to which we often disproportionately value the things we can readily measure. This can lead to a demeaning of people who do things without economic reward. Mammon brushes past them, spurning them as unimportant, little people. The parent or family member who stays at home or refuses a promotion to be with a child with disabilities is not considered to contribute. Yet the sacrifice and care they demonstrate is extraordinary. A spouse who supports their partner at the cost of their own career is seen as second-rate, or lacking ambition.”
A major problem facing society today is its fragmentation. Media outlets are quick to comment on declining church membership but the same applies to political parties, trade unions and many civic groups.
People seem content to live to themselves or within carefully constructed bubbles of like-minded people with little interest in what goes on outside.
The Christian gospel on the other hand is about inclusive community.
Jesus gathered and nurtured a small community of young people to be his kingdom builders. The early church got the message and members shared their possessions, looked after the needy, ate together, prayed together and, significantly, grew in numbers.
St Paul, the church’s first theologian, saw that Jesus had inaugurated a new order, a kingdom in which all barriers were broken down and a new community had come into being “in Christ”. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
The significance and the potential for justice and peace of these fundamentals are obvious in a world where racism and nationalism destroy lives; a world where sexual exploitation demeans its victims; a world where slavery exploits the weak and vulnerable; a world where, for some, an illusory promised land will be found on sunny islands in off-shore banks.
But to end, a word of caution from John Ruskin: “. . . if you do not wish for his [God’s] kingdom, don’t pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it.”