Awarded the Best Religious Book by the National Religious Book Award, The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald Kraybill is a potentially life-changing read. Originally published in 1978, the book was completely revised and updated in 2003. Successfully, Kraybill has authored a thought provoking work accessible to lay leaders and scholars alike. The central thesis of the book is as follows: “The kingdom of God announced by Jesus was a new order of things that looked upside-down in the midst of Palestinian culture in the first century. Moreover, the kingdom of God continues to have upside-down features as it breaks into diverse cultures around the world today.” Since its first publication, the book has touched and inspired thousands of readers around the world and it is the author’s hope that it will continue to do so. As a Dutchman in Vietnam, it certainly has touched and inspired me.
Kraybill’s book was recommended to me by my associate pastor, John Johnson, in preparation for our sermon series by the same title, The Upside-Down Kingdom, and based on the Gospel of Luke. It has changed my perspective on many familiar passages, such as the temptation of Christ, Jesus interaction with the tax collectors and sinful women, and the parable of the Good Samaritan. “Jesus blurred the fine lines which separated sacred from profane,” says Kraybill. “By embracing the wicked in table fellowship, he made it clear that the new kingdom welcomed all, regardless of past sin or piety.” Jesus loved all, unconditionally, even before they were aware of their faults and even those who did not respond in repentance or gratitude. However, those “who worked so hard to apply the Torah to everyday life are left behind. Their fervor and enthusiasm for ceremonial piety thwarts God’s law of love.”
By loving the so-called “enemies” of religious society in his day, Jesus created and agitated his real enemies, which eventually led his execution on the cross. Jesus said that we should not be surprised if the same were to happen to us. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first,” he told his disciples on the night he was betrayed. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18, 20 NIV). So let us not be fooled that by loving enemies everyone will rejoice and be friends. The consequences to our choices to follow Christ’s example is the cross that we also must bear. As Kraybill puts it so bluntly, “A cross is an expensive decision.”
By Jacob Bloemberg