Tuesday 6 June 2023

God’s Gathering

…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 
Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, 
I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

—Isaiah 56:7b-8

I have never really stopped to ponder the days immediately after our Messiah’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. When I read Matthew 21 or Mark 11, however, I am struck by the fact that in these passages Jesus appears to be in quite the mood. The first thing that sets him off is all the buying and selling going on in the temple, and he summarily proceeds to overturn the tables of these exploiters and schlock merchants, driving them out as he does so. The next day, feeling hungry, he curses a barren fig tree. Mark 11 makes a point of letting us know that the disciples heard Jesus’s curse, as if they were already walking on eggshells.

As I meditate over these stories, I also become struck by the way our Messiah’s imagination is charged with a vision of God’s kingdom of shalom. In this light, his anger and frustration seem to stem from the distance he experiences between that vision and his present reality. When he is driving the merchants from the temple, for example, he quotes the passage from the prophet Isaiah, above, chastising the merchants for instead transforming God’s all-welcoming home into a “den of robbers” (vs. 17).

Last month, ICS invited Yale theologian Miroslav Volf to speak to audiences at Martin Luther University in Waterloo and at the Toronto School of Theology. Volf’s talks focused on distilling the message of his most recent book (co-authored with Ryan McAnally-Linz) The Home of God: A Brief Story of Everything. In this book, Volf offers the stimulating suggestion that God’s redemptive work is a kind of homemaking. God is at work in creation to make the world a home for God, a home in which all of redeemed humanity belongs and will be gathered. Our love for God, Volf suggests, is therefore intimately related to the God’s love for the world:

Since God is the ultimate good, humans ought to love God above all things and for God’s own sake. But to love God is to love the world that God loves—and to love it…with the love with which God loves it and which God is. If this idea appears startlingly ‘worldly’, that’s because the holy and transcendent God is surprisingly worldly—desiring to make a home and be at home in the beloved creation. (7)

From these words, I return to Matthew 21 and Mark 11 and see our Messiah’s consternation and impatience in a new light. Matthew 21 ends with Jesus’s suggestion that the Kingdom of God will be given to “a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom” (vs. 43). These are the people that Isaiah tells us our Maker and Redeemer is gathering, including especially all those people who have been cast out of all of history’s oppressive kingdoms, empires that fail to make a home for God precisely because they fail to make a home for these outcasts.

As we enter summer, friends, let us ponder God’s good creation that sustains and nurtures us, and imagine what part we might play in God’s homemaking. Let’s imagine that place and gather there. I’ll meet you by the fig tree laden with good fruit.

Shalom, and again I say shalom!
Ron Kuipers