As we enter the new year, and I reflect on what I wish for the world in 2012, prophetic words from the Magnificat play through my mind: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” I am hoping that more people will work for a world where the lowly are lifted up, rather than trampled down; where the hungry are fed; where compassion and mercy win out over vengeance. These wishes are part of the vision described so beautifully in The Upside-Down Kingdom by Donald B. Kraybill. These wishes are part of the vision embodied by Jesus of Nazareth, as described in the gospels.
Kraybill describes the kingdom of God as central to the ministry of Jesus, and reminds readers that Jesus saw the kingdom—the place and time when justice and love would reign—not as an ethereal heaven, but as an earthly place that we can create now. How could we possibly do this? By heeding the teachings to love one another, to love our enemies, to not make idols out of wealth.
The gospel teachings are contextualized, with detailed descriptions of what life was like in first century Palestine for Jews living under Roman occupation. The teachings of Jesus challenged the prevailing social order in ancient Palestine, and continue to do so today. As Kraybill writes, “His revolution was upside-down, It touted acts of compassion, not daggers. Love was the new Torah, the standard of his upside-down kingdom.”
In contrast to worldly values, kingdom values are “rooted in the deep love and abiding grace of God” and they “seed new ways of thinking and living.” By aligning ourselves with these values, we can help to create a world where there is compassion for the needy and love even for so-called enemies. While the details of life in the 21st century differ greatly from that of the 1st, the principles remain the same.
I hope that The Upside-Down Kingdom can reach an even wider audience with the recent publication of an updated edition. (Originally published in 1978, the book was revised in 1990, 2003, and 2011.) The vision of Christianity that Kraybill writes about remains powerful and compelling. Written from an Anabaptist perspective, this book provides compelling material for all individuals interested in social justice.
I highly recommend this book, for personal reading or a study group selection. May we grow in knowledge and in love in this new year.