The Righteous One on the Mount
Two of my longtime, favorite Bible verses, which I refer to below, come from the gospel of Matthew (Mt 5:6, 6:33). Matthew gathers some of Jesus’s remarkable teachings into a section of the book familiar to English speakers as the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7).
Let’s take note of the place from where Jesus taught — an unnamed mountain. If you listen closely you may hear an echo from long ago, when Moses, another great leader, spoke God’s words from Mount Sinai to the newly rescued people from Egypt (Ex 20, Deut 5).
Echos also ring forth from the Psalms. Perhaps it was in the early days of David’s reign, when being chosen by God to be king he wondered if he was worthy, by asking, “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? (Ps 15:1; 24:3).
Or perhaps the questions rose much later in his life after he came face to face with the reality of his own inability to be righteous, to be holy, to be pure.
We know Scripture commands that we be holy. It is quite another thing to actually follow through in the being holy in every aspect of our daily lives. 1
So we ask along with David, who is the one righteous and pure enough to rightfully ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who is that one?
Today the church responds confidently, “The one qualified to be teaching from the mount is none other than Jesus!” Jesus, the perfect example of one whose deeds correlate perfectly with their teaching. Jesus, the exemplar of righteousness.
Matthew’s concern, it seems was for God’s community of believers to take seriously “the necessity to live their faith.” His “strong emphasis on practicing righteousness,” galvanizes the idea that it is through righteous living and in pursuing righteousness that the believing community will be able to bear fruit. 2
So, we find Jesus teaching — from this unnamed mountain — with the intention of cultivating good and right character and behavior for his disciples who exist in what in English is translated, “God’s Kingdom.”
Kingdom of God?
Let’s turn briefly to the verses I referred to above. I’m sharing from the KJV — not because of any primacy over other translations — but because I used that translation in my cathechism classes many years ago. I’ll share more about this in my next post.
- “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Mt 5:6, KJV
- “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Mt 6:33, KJV
The first verse, a long-time favorite of mine, addressed the deep longing embedded in my heart to find the right and the good way of living in hopes of salvaging my messed-up childhood. It was quite a journey, but today my heart is full and my life overflows with blessings.
The other verse — which I continually rely upon — reassured me in my early days when I was a young college student with very limited resources. Every one of my physical needs would be met while seeking first the kingdom of God — for that which is right and good.
I wholeheartedly agree with the Psalmist who evidently recognized that it is especially in the dry desert of life where we count upon the Lord shepherding us to places of rest and nourishment (Ps 23:1).
A “Kink” in the “Kingdom”
I planned to upload this blog post a few weeks ago, but then came across a newly published book by a Christian, feminist theologian, Kyndall Rae Rothaus, titled, “Thy Queendom Come: Breaking free from the patriarchy to save your soul.” 3
How would this feminist scholar critique the Kingdom of God, and why for heaven’s sake did she use such a provocative title? Obviously to get our attention and it worked.
I’m rather new to the works of feminist theologians, having been introduced to this genre of study about 10 years ago.
They used to frighten the dickens out of me, that is until took the opportunity to read some of these works. I am engaging more and more with feminist writers (male and female) and see how this methodology reveals places where theology must be examined, evaluated, discarded, and improved.
Language communicates. Words matter. Language defines community and culture. Language creates boundaries. Language is power. If you don’t believe me, a few days on social media will be enough to convince you how words take on a life of their own—they either maim and destroy or heal and encourage.
Translation from one language to another matters. Since the Biblical text is intended to be read as Scripture — as God’s words to humanity — there is an assumed authority and trust in the text. This requires humility on the part of the translator, the interpreter, and those teaching it.
I knew this, but hadn’t taken the time to research whether the phrase, Kingdom of God, was appropriately conveying the message of the text.
Kyndal’s book, Thy Queendom Come, was the necessary slap to the side of my face to get my attention, to show me what I missed seeing. It was the title that caught my attention, and to be honest, once I saw it, there was no unseeing it.
How had I missed what Kyndall Rothaus found problematic with this term — the English word, king-dom.
I will admit I was disappointed I had not seen this myself! But then I realized, years of being conditioned to not see, to not ask, to not speak still had a force, a power to take a toll in my thinking.
For years I was comfortable with a concept passed down from my own church tradition that I now know has inadvertently contributed to the idea of male-dominance in the Body of Christ. This is a concept I no longer hold tenable.
A Few Quotes from Queendom
Years ago I would have been more than queezy just thinking about a queendom and this subject, but I’m sharing to let you know there is a remedy for the ailment. There is so much at stake in the church that it’s time we come to terms with the situation.
- “Once you begin to see just how unbalanced our language about God has been, you cannot unsee it” (pg. 4).
- “As powerful as a female image of Christ is, I don’t want to lose the male images of Christ either. After all, a male version of God who willingly divests himself of power is far more revolutionary than a woman who is murdered by those in power” (pg. 8).
- “Women are crucified on the daily. Men with power are not” (pg. 8).
- “Only the willing death of a male-presenting God could topple power structures of the time.The death of a female-presenting God would scarcely have raised an eyebrow” (pg. 9).
Reasons for the word Queendom
- “[T]hink of Christ’s reign as something brand new rather than an improved replica of the old systems (pg 12).
- “Queendom makes us rething our preconceptions … to imagine that God-in-Christ really is disrupting the world and making all things new (pg 13).
- And last, this potent statement, “When religious leaders continue to silence women, it is a sign of the church’s impotence, not its fidelity (pg 15).
In the second part of this post, God’s Kingdom: All Tattered and Torn, I will share my early experiences of how these verses have impacted my life. Seeking God’s kingdom is two-sided proposition — in that it brings blessings and troubles as well.
Image credit: The Dismantling of the Church of the Holy Innocents, Paris, 1785 Hubert Robert (1733–1808) at The Bowes Museum
- This question is explored in depth by L. Michael Morales in Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A biblical theology of the book of Leviticus, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2015).
- A. B. du Toit/Neotestamentica 50.3 (2016) Special Edition 59-91 ; Revisiting the Sermon on the Mount: Some Major Issues.
- Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021
“They used to frighten the dickens out of me.” LOL. Same.
We could just use the non-gendered word “realm” which is perfectly valid translation of basileia.
That’s what I do sometimes.