American society is infatuated with hierarchy. We idolize those at the top of the corporate, entertainment, and sports arenas. We disdain, even harm, the lowly and oppressed, the “nobodies.”
Our cliches are filled with hierarchy. “Climb the corporate ladder.” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
But is God’s heart in this “rat race?”
I hear these kind of platitudes all the time in the church. Christians just tend to qualify it as “prosperity” or “God’s blessing.” American living at its finest. Kingdom living at its worst.
America is a Land of Hierarchy
The American education system is a major contributor to hierarchies. I read an article recently about the equalizing pull of cheap or free online education to the brick-and-mortar, traditional university (“Creative Destruction” The Economist).
In the article comments, one person argued that the physical university will remain as a place for the children of the elite to meet each other, a place to further their connections to Money. This person also claimed that egalitarianism was unheard of in society until the 20th century, and the growing economic inequalities of the 21st century are merely a return to the normality of the ruling elite. This person claims that the “land of equality” was always a myth.
This article was published in The Economist, a politically conservative magazine. Apparently this commenter has never read a Bible. Throughout the Old Testament, God frowned on the ruling elite and economic inequality.
God is the King of Kingdom Living
Through Samuel (1 Samuel 8), God bemoaned Israels desire for a king. God said Israel had turned away from him and all his miracles in bringing them out of Egypt. He longed to be their king, completely just and righteous. He knew the corruption that power brings to the human heart, and he warned Israel of the oppression they would face under a human king and a hierarchy. But, through heavenly tears, he gave them their free will.
Some may argue that God ordained kingship through the Davidic line. We must remember, though, that He chose David from the peasantry to overthrow the ruling elite, Saul. Clearly, God did not believe in rule by birth. God always judges by the heart, not by elite status of human hierarchy.
Fast forward to the New Testament, and we find that Jesus’ life and teachings center around the idea of kingdom living with God as king. Although Jesus had every right to claim kingship over Israel, indeed kingship over the whole earth, he lived a simple servant life with nowhere to even lay his head. Through his parables and his sermon on the mount, he lifted up the meek and humble. Jesus blessed the poor who had been thrown to the trash dump by the world’s hierarchies.
Jesus Teaches Us the Way of the Servant
One day, the disciples began to argue about who was the greatest. I hear this same tired bickering around me all day every day, especially in ego-driven, appearance-adoring, hierarchical American culture. In response, Jesus said something profound:
Mark 9:35 (NIV)
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Read that again. The first to enter the kingdom of heaven will be the servants of this world.
I don’t see many people practicing this around me, least of all those who call themselves Christians, “followers of Jesus.” They claim to “serve” Jesus by showing up to church on Sunday, or singing some song with a rock-star worship band. Meanwhile, they prevent their homeless brother from entering the sanctuary, they renounce their sister who is a poverty-stricken single mom, they rage against their gay brother looking for love. They create human hierarchies in the very church that should be practicing kingdom living.
Hierarchies of hatred. The antithesis of kingdom living.
Jesus sees and loves these precious ones that the church rejects. Take another look at his words in the parable of the sheep and goats recorded in Matthew 25 (NIV):
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
The poor and oppressed shall stand in judgment. There is no place in the heavenly kingdom for those who set themselves up as the ruling elite on earth.
There are no hierarchies in kingdom living.