Saturday, 21 January 2017

Passing the Citizenship of Heaven Test

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. mmediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (Matt 4:17-23)
These days, if you want to become a British citizen you've got to pass a Britishness test. Bit worried about that myself. I mean, because I was born here and so were generations of Fitzroy-Russells before me, I've not had to take it. But what happens if it's like an MOT and at some point I get called in for a test?

I've been checking out some of the sample questions you might get. And there's some that I reckon aren't as clear cut as you might think.  Take the example:
"You must treat everyone equally, regardless of sex, race, age, religion, disability, class or sexual orientation."
To which the options are only true or false. Whereas if you happened to be a Bishop, the answer would be "not necessarily."

The question as to how many people there are on a Scottish jury is just the sort of thing most English people won't get. And let's face it, even for most Glaswegians, if they're in court, the last thing on their mind is going to be counting the members of the jury.  (It's 15). Though it's fair to say that most of us know that Henry VIII's daughter was Bloody Mary, not Scary Mary who is a well-known Anglican nun.

And how many know the rough number of years between Julius Caesar's second invasion (54BC, due to the odd Roman method of counting) and the Roman Conquest of the bottom half of these islands?

Now obviously these questions don't go too far. There's not a practical where you get to tutt at someone who is using their phone too loudly on a train. No rigorous exam where you go into the local Weatherspoons and have to work out, from pure instinct, whether people just pile up at the bar to be served or whether the local tradition is that you queue. But these are the kind of obstacles that are put in the way of becoming a subject of this, currently united, kingdom. They are an implicit message that if you want to be one of us, you've got to play by our rules. We would like you to be a person like us.

Jesus's calling of the disciples is sandwiched here between two occasions when he is proclaiming the kingdom. The first time, he's telling people to repent for the kingdom is near. And the second time he is preaching the good news of the kingdom.

In between he calls the first four disciples. This cannot be an accident. .The calling of the four must be something to do with the kingdom. Maybe it's telling us the sort of citizens the kingdom is looking for, and the sort of test they'll have to pass to get into it.

They're just ordinary blokes. Fishermen. It's hard work dragging fish out of the sea. It's tough. tedious and hard on the hands to mend nets. They're hard working blokes who burn their skins in the sun and run the risk of shipwreck and drowning. They're just blokes.

And the people that get added to them later - they're ordinary people. No real selection as to class and other attributes.  Some tax collectors, a Zealot, some prostitutes, Mary Magdalene who has seven demons cast out but appears to have a few quid. Some people surprisingly close to the court. But they're all just people. And they appear to have passed the same citizenship test. They simply followed Jesus.

When we follow Jesus when he calls us, we become citizens of heaven. We're part of the court of the King. We're still living in exile, and we have to follow the rules of the nations in which we live - as people do, who are living in foreign countries. But our choice is made. We're subjects of the king. Whenever we live as if we are God's people, we take a very small part of the kingdom and establish it where we live.

But we're aware that we're now in a sense of exiles. The things that were ours, we know we may have to leave behind. The things we own now belong to God, to use for his glory. And if we're citizens of God's kingdom we know that neither do we really belong here. When we realise the place we really belong - where God is king and there is eternal peace, love and justice - we will do what we can to make this place look like where we belong. And, when all's said and done, we'll be longing to go home.


  1. 'Whenever we live as if we are God's people, we take a very small part of the kingdom and establish it where we live.'

    So true, yet so hard to remember to do day to day. I suspect that all we can do is try, pace Yoda.

    (Also, hooray for '1066 And All That.')

  2. As I read it, the test goes something like this: "I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me....

    1. I agree if you follow the King you should recognize him. See also Through the Bible with Nigel Farage

  3. "They are an implicit message that if you want to be one of us, you've got to play by our rules. We would like you to be a person like us."

    This reminded me of the Medical model of disability - let us non-disabled people mend you to be the same as us - compared with the social model - let's all work together to enable everyone to participate regardless of their impairments.

    (I was at a diocesan training day "Learning to Listen to Disabled People" yesterday.)

  4. Yes, I treat everyone the same regardless of age. So tomorrow I shall get my Auntie Moly into a school uniform and send her off to St Judas's comprehensive. And a double gin for young Lydia, age 5.

    1. Yes I shudder with the recollection of that last visit. The sight of Moly in her gymn slip has left me with nightmares.


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