The Flannelgraph Kingdom: Good News

Everything I ever needed to know about the Kingdom of God, I learned from flannelgraph.

No person in history has been depicted as frequently in flannelgraph as Jesus. My earliest images of Jesus – healing, teaching, lying in a manger – are all painted in the soft, colorful media of flannel. I am eternally grateful for the kind, elderly ladies who – though separated from me by two or three generations – took the time to put together these scenes so that they could illustrate their accounts of the life of Jesus.

Funny thing. Every time someone tried to explain something to me about what Jesus taught, the subject was always the same: the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God was not one of several subjects in which Jesus was interested. For him, it was The Subject, virtually the only thing worth talking about. His ministry was introduced by John’s announcement that the Kingdom was near, and when John was placed in prison, Jesus immediately began to teach the same thing.

Even though it was accompanied by a call for repentance, the teachings about the Kingdom were generally characterized as “good news.”

Why is that?

I think a lot of it can be found in the beattitudes, which appear in the early part of Matthew 5:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are two ways to read the beattitudes. You can read them as a list of virtues – in other words, as a list of things that describe characteristics that all followers of Jesus should seek out and desire.

But it is also possible to read the beattitudes as a proclamation of good news. “The Kingdom of God, which is now at hand,” Jesus says, “will be for everyone. If you are poor in spirit, if you mourn, if you strive for righteousness and purity and peace, rather than seeking to force your own ways on others, God is here for you. He is on your side.”

In that sense, the “good news” part of the announcement of the Kingdom is that the age of power and violence is coming to an end. God is entering into history, and the result of that movement will be the end of the oppressive human kingdoms which bring about sadness, misery, and which despise righteousness and mercy.

The way this would happen, however, would turn everything you relate to war and politics upside-down.

Next up: The Mustard Seed Kingdom

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