The lectionary’s first reading and gospel pairing usually works, but not today. Isaiah’s radical “peaceable kingdom” has been so romanticized in our religious imagination that its eschatological meaning, in light of John the Baptist’s warning, gets lost.
If we immediately count ourselves among the innocent, safe from the viper’s venom, then today’s prophetic announcement of the kingdom could be heard as simply a nice message for nice Christians instead of the world-upending proclamation it’s meant to be.In God’s kingdom, enmity is erased that we might repent of the ways we harbor fear and hatred in our hearts. Click To Tweet
John the Baptist doesn’t fit in or play nice. In stark appearance and striking language, he distances himself from the usual religious leaders of the day to announce that something entirely new is coming, a different kind of kingdom with a different kind of leader.
The new thing about this kingdom is that it’s open for everyone. Salvation is at hand for anyone who desires it. But if our response to the gospel’s open invitation is self-righteousness instead of self-reflection, then judgment, too, awaits. In God’s kingdom, enmity is erased that we might repent of the ways we harbor fear and hatred in our hearts. The kingdom is at hand when we recognize that sometimes we are the viper or wolf, the cobra or lion, lording our privilege upon the vulnerable. The good news is that we need only to turn around to see and enter God’s reign.