Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed, performed, embraced, and enacted the Kingdom of God.
He preached, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news,’ and demonstrated what this looked like by healing the sick, forgiving sin, welcoming the weak, challenging injustice, and laying down his life as an act of self-giving sacrificial love.
This Kingdom, the government of God, does not retreat into the enigmatic realms of spiritual irrelevance but stands as a dynamic and transformative reign, with the potential to bring about social, political, and economic changes that can impact the lives of individuals and communities. The reign and rule of the Father stands in stark contrast to empires of domination and oppression, aligning with communities characterized by kindness, love, and compassion.
Jesus inaugurated the kingdom and will ultimately bring it to a glorious consummation. A world without injustice, domination or tears, a world in which there will be a ‘tree for the healing of the nations.’
Within the unfolding narrative of the kingdom, we find ourselves in a chapter and context which is particularly worrying- a contemporary world which is marked by both extreme wealth inequality and climate breakdown.
The stark realities of these inequalities are evident as a privileged elite engages in the ceaseless accumulation and hoarding of wealth. For example, in the context of the United Kingdom, the top 1% of the population possesses wealth equivalent to that owned by 70% of the entire nation. Globally, the situation is even more alarming, with the richest 26 individuals worldwide amassing wealth equivalent to that of the bottom 50%—an astonishing 3.6 billion people.
Furthermore, the financial and political elite, through their high-carbon lifestyles, will likely, and knowingly, shoulder a huge responsibility in the coming decades for the deaths of many millions due to fossil fuel-driven climate breakdown. At 1.2 degrees above preindustrial temperatures, we are already seeing an increase in floods, fires, and extreme events, and we are on a trajectory to 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. This possible and probable future is a world of mass migration, mass starvation & societal collapse, and it is the world’s poorest who will most acutely suffer.
Driving these lifestyles are the ideologies of endless growth, unrestrained capitalism and consumerism, whilst the vulnerable remain the sacrificial underbelly of ‘business as usual’. Yet the harsh truth is that ‘business as usual’ will bring societal and ecological ruin for all.
In his world, also marked by profound inequality, Jesus is unequivocal. He proclaims divine favour for the poor and condemns those who accumulate and hoard wealth, declaring, ‘Blessed are the poor’ and ‘Woe to you who are rich.’ Elsewhere, Jesus speaks clearly against the accumulation of wealth, admonishing us not to build bigger barns while the poor suffer at the gates. He calls on individuals who have hoarded wealth to sell all they have and give it to the poor. Even in his opening sermon, Jesus draws on the Jubilee traditions of Leviticus, which advocate an economic reset in which hoarded wealth is to be redistributed.
Returning to our own day, we may ask what this means for us. How can we faithfully improvise the kingdom story in our own world of climate breakdown?
While we may not have all the answers, we have the Spirit of Jesus as our guide, the missional choreographer leading us into authentic improvisation.
I want to close this blog post with a few suggestions.
- Engage in Conversations: Encourage open and respectful dialogue within your community. Create spaces for discussions that address both the principles of the Kingdom and the pressing issues of climate crisis and wealth inequality. By talking about these matters, you can raise awareness and foster understanding among your congregation.
- Ethical Investments: Consider ethical and responsible investment options. Direct resources toward investments that align with the principles of justice, sustainability, and care for the less fortunate. By doing so, you can tangibly support the Kingdom’s values in your financial decisions.
- Advocate for Just Taxation: Recognize the importance of fair and just taxation. Advocate for policies and practices that address wealth disparities and fund initiatives to combat climate breakdown. Engage in discussions and advocacy efforts to promote tax reforms that align with the principles of the Kingdom and strive for a more equitable society.
- Teach the Kingdom’s Principles: For those in church leadership, consider how you can teach and reteach Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom, taking into account his stance on the hoarding of wealth and the context we find ourselves in. This education can serve as a powerful foundation for your congregation’s understanding and action.
- Prophetic Voice for the Powerless: Encourage the church to take up a prophetic voice, speaking truth to power on behalf of the powerless. Challenge societal structures and policies that perpetuate wealth inequality and contribute to climate breakdown. Advocate for justice, compassion, and the well-being of the vulnerable, reminding those in positions of authority of their moral responsibilities to create a more equitable and sustainable world. This prophetic witness, sometimes involving protest and non-violent direct action, can be a powerful force for positive change and towards a livable and just future.
Rev’d Jon Swales MBE heads up a fresh expression of church in Leeds for vulnerable adults called Lighthouse, and is involved theological education and climate activism. He blogs at www.cruciformjustice.com
Our JustMoney Movement website has several resources and tools to help you engage in conversations, explore the themes raised throughout Jon’s blog and campaign for a fair and just use of money. Be sure to spend some time exploring our website, visit our Money Makes Change Hub, explore some of our free resources and sign up for our regular communication.