As an Anglican priest I attended one of those tiresome clergy conferences and some fellow named Russell in a blue clerical shirt was up front going on about ‘the commonwealth of God.’ He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘kingdom of God.’
It wasn’t politically correct.
So over dinner I made a point of sitting by him and asking him about this novelty.
“Hi Russell, Mind if I sit here?”
“Russell, I kept hearing you say, ‘commonwealth of God’ during your talk. What did you mean by that exactly?”
“You see, Jesus spoke of the ‘kingdom of God’ and that is not a term which is readily understood by modern people today.”
“But we live in England. Surely everyone here knows what a monarch is don’t they?”
Patronizing smile: “Yes, but the Queen’s power is negligible. She’s just a figure head.”
“Maybe, but even so, she holds pretty much power doesn’t she just because of who she is?”
“We live in a democracy and Jesus and his disciples did not understand democracy. That’s why he used language about a king and kingdom.”
“Hang on a sec. The people of ancient times understood democracy didn’t they? I mean it wasn’t exactly like ours, but only a few years before Jesus’ time Rome was a Republic, and isn’t ‘democracy’ a Greek word? I thought they understood democracy too. So Jesus and his disciples would have understood democracy, but he chose to use the image of kingdom.”
Another polite smile, “Perhaps, but you see, that’s really beside the point because we live in a democracy today and medieval terminology about kings is degrading to modern people.”
“I don’t feel degraded by it. It inspires me. I do, however, feel degraded by ‘the commonwealth of God.’ It makes me feel like a Bolshevist comrade in arms. But anyhow, does it really matter whether the king was medieval or ancient or modern? The idea of a king and kingdom really is very different from that of a commonwealth or a democracy, and Jesus must have chosen the king and kingdom imagery for a purpose.”
“Yes, but modern people don’t relate to it.”
“I relate to it, and I’m an American. Can’t get much more modern than that!”
Smile turns to teeth baring grin and menacing chuckle, “Yes, well you Americans do sometimes have quaint ideas about our Queen and the monarchy. I suppose you’re also somewhat of an antiquarian. Love the Dark Ages do you? Spanish Inquisition and all that?”
“As it happens I do love the Middle Ages. Apart from the plumbing and dentistry, there’s a lot that was better in the Middle Ages. Especially kings and castles and knights and monasteries and gothic cathedrals and all that. Say, Russell, have you ever thought what sort of person you’d be in the Middle Ages? I’ve always thought I’d be either a Benedictine monk or a court jester. What kind of person do you see yourself as in the Middle Ages?”
“I can’t say I’ve ever given it much thought.”
” I know! I could see you as one of those guys who pushes the cart through the streets during the Black Death yelling, ‘Bring out your dead!!’ “
“How amusing. I think I’ll go get some dessert.”
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