Jesus might have had a little twinkle in his eye when he sent out the disciples imparting an identity to them:
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. So be as wise as snakes and as harmless as doves.
Apparently on the ‘wolf restaurant’ there are all varieties of dishes with lamb as the star of each dish: roast lamb, boiled lamb, barbecued lamb, lamb in salsa… They seem to just love eating lamb! Just a tad vulnerable I think.
It struck me the other day that if Isaiah has a value as a backdrop to so much of the New Testament we have two passages there that tie in: Isaiah 11:1-9, and the shorter passage Isaiah 66: 25
Wolves and lambs will eat together.
Lions will eat straw like oxen.
Serpents will not bite anyone.
They will eat nothing but dust.
None of those animals will harm or destroy
anything or anyone on my holy mountain of Zion.
For those who have followed our journey through the ReConquista we have come to understand that Paul’s Gospel had at its heart ‘convivencia’, and that the body of Christ as royal priesthood carries a catalytic responsibility for the society where it is located so that the society might be a place where at a real level convivencia is manifest. This is indeed a tall challenge when we look at the state of the world as we have it, but we would also contend that society has been hampered from experiencing anything approaching convivencia by the invasion of empire into the church. Imperialism draws on (supposed) external authority to legitimise its behaviour as the ‘good’ manifestation of power so as they can at least give benefits to those who comply if not punish those who do not comply. In Christendom terms it means we can name some nations as ‘sheep’ nations and expect increasingly for some kind of Christianised laws to be applied, allowing us to purify the land through increased border controls.
This is why we are convinced that there is a revolution (a turning around) that is at hand. 500 years after the Reformation there is a rooting out of imperialism. For empires to really shift there has to be a shift in the church. The breaking free from the paradigm of ‘the few at the centre who shape the future, promising benefits to those who comply, while in reality the benefits make their way back to the centre.’ At the last supper Jesus set the pattern of breaking the centre. He gave himself away, including to Judas, thus any former centre had been dissipated. Pentecost follows the same pattern – on all flesh, and with an emphasis on the margins. The margins became the new focus – hence not a hope of a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem!
In these days something has to be pioneered, and maybe the place where this could take place is in ‘secularised’ Europe. I consider it is certainly easier to see such a shift in a place where the church is already marginalised. Easier never to dream of being a centre when without power, than of having a key place at the table of power (early church vs. post-Constantine). All that has to be dealt with is ‘fear’ and all that needs to be increased is faith.
Lambs among wolves – that is a fear inspiring identity, and requires a faith increase.
Convivencia – the lamb and the wolf lying down together, eating together. The vision of the kingdom, a vision of convivencia. Sadly, as we have seen in the ReConquista, the wolf identity was too often taken by those who claimed to follow Jesus. At best we end up with wolf against wolf (war) and at worst the followers of Christ place on the table their ‘enemy’ to eat: a complete reversal of the Jesus’ paradigm.
This next phase will require faith at a new level, and with it many changes of paradigm. It will require mission being understood as relocation. Sent among. It will require witness more than evangelism. Or maybe evangelism will not be something done but something proclaimed – a new order of being and relationship, and that will have to be witnessed to. It will require an understanding that we are not here to get as many out of the world into the church, but as much of heaven into the world.
There are many ways this can be expressed. Of late the understanding of Israel and then the church as royal priesthood has been illuminating. The pursuit of the path toward nationhood by Israel marked her failure, and the alignment of church with Imperial power so that there was a mutual endorsement of each other likewise marked her failure. But if we can recover the vision of this being God’s world, and that there is a redeemed people so that the presence of heaven might be beyond that redeemed people (‘the two hands of God’ as per the early church fathers) we will see a profound shift and progress. Maybe if we can embrace new paradigms more opens up than is closed down. Of course we will lose something – our specialness in the wrong sense; an understanding of grace as salvation as opposed to a gift-calling to serve and to lay down one’s life; a shift from power to love; from the taking of life to the giving of life.
Royal priesthood as calling, or maybe we can suggest it will manifest as a true convivencia. Space opened up where all can live together, where hospitality reigns, where it is not dependent on age, gender, race nor religion. Holding that space in humility with the clarity that Jesus alone is the way to the Father is a challenge. He exhibited what it was to create convivencia. Those who set themselves against that were the religious exclusivists, those who would not give hospitality would find that their future would be harsher than that of Sodom. The way of Jesus is not one way among many, but it is the way for the many to live together.
Challenging days ahead. But as lambs we have to be.