Chapter One: Down is Up
- The chapter starts with John the Baptist’s and Mary’s prophecies about the coming
of the new order, the kingdom of God. This new order, the upside-down kingdom, would bring a radical shift of social patterns in which social pyramid is about to turn the other way around.
- Jesus describes the kingdom of God and other kingdoms of this world as two inverted ladders.
- In Bible God’s kingdom is described as a collectivity, it is not an aggregate of individuals, but the network of people who fully dedicate themselves to the reign of God.
- I fully agree with this chapter. I find the ideas of social justice as one of the most important parts of the Christian faith.
Chapter Two: Mountain Politics
- This chapter describes temptations Jesus faced on his mission. Important temptations arose from political, religious and economic context.
- Jesus’ time was characterised by unstable political situation in Palestine.
- Jewish political figures viewed Jesus as a dangerous revolutionary who violates Sabbath laws, criticizes greed, and provokes Pharisees. But they also saw him as a potential ally.
- The author sees the invitation to join the Jewish political struggle as a great temptation for Jesus. However, he rejected it and warned that kings of his upside down kingdom are not violent warrior and peasant kings but children and servants. His revolution replaces force with suffering, and violence with love.
- I find arguments in this chapter convincing. It is reasonable to assume that Jesus could have joined influential political leaders. Instead he decided to follow his mission at the price of his life.
Chapter Three: Temple Piety
- This chapter explains Jesus’ religious temptations. It begins with the description of “heavenly parachute” - the devil’s tempting offer to Jesus to use miracles to convince masses and neutralize criticism of religious leaders.
- For readers to fully understand the size of mentioned temptation, the author describes the importance of temple as the the true center of Jewish religious, social and political life of that time.
- He also describes religious politics with two main religious political parties: Sadducees and Pharisees.
- All jewish parties expected the arrival of the Messiah, which made Jesus’ religious temptation even more tempting.
- The author makes very convincing explanation of Jesus’ temptation that arose from religious situation. Jesus resisted it and chose to replace the hipocrisy of religius politics with teaching filled with the compassion and love. Instead of spectacular display of miracles he preferred the role of servant Savior. In his new religion the heroes were castaways of the old one.
Chapter Four: Wilderness Bread
- The chapter deals with economic temptation he cally “the bread temptation”. He asks the question – why would Jesus reject tempting offer to feed the starving masses?
- He explains that accepting such offer would destroy the essence of Jesus’ mission – it would remove suffering, but it would also reduce people to bread-eating animals.
- The chapter describes two main social classes of Palestine and Galilee in Jesus’ time – very rich and very poor.
- According to the author, Jesus and most of his followers came from the upper levels of Galilean peasantry. Still, he identified himself with the lowest social classes.
- By rejecting the bread temptation, argues the author, Jesus refused a short time solution and offered an eternal alternative. He formed the new foundation for living and offered a permanent bread of life.
- Once again, I agree with the authors interpretations – possibilty to feed the hungry masses is very tempting but it does little to change the true order of things.
Chapter Five: Free Slaves
- This chapter desribes the moment in which Jesus announces his mission in the temple. His friends and neighbors react violently, trying to kill him, and chasing him out of the town. The author then goes on explaining the reasons behind their display of violent anger – Jews could not accept his claim that God would show mercy even for the wicked.
- Jesus announces his messianic mission in the year of Hebrew Jubilee, linking the two together. Among the principals of Jubilee were liberating the slaves, forgiving debts, and being generous towards the poor. The author explains that in true biblical fashion main principals of this special year combine spiritual and social dimensions. Principles of Jubilee - mercy, liberation, freedom, compassion and release – are also the principles Jesus’ teaching.
- I agree with the author, his arguments are well balanced, so he also quotes historians that claim that the year in which Jesus announced his mission was not the year of the Jubilee. Still, six listed visions of the Jubilee are indeed central values of the New Testament..
Chapter Six: Luxurious Poverty
- This chapter explains Jesus’ attitude towards personal wealth - he does not condemn private property but he strongly condemns greed. Wealth, argues the author, does not fall from the sky, it is the result of greed and rules that oppress the poor.
- Jesus warns that money and material goods can turn into idols and take control over people.
- One of the main ideas of this chapter is that people get too attached to wealth, which competes with their devotion to God.
- The author’s arguments are convincing – there is something truly seductive in wealth and even most of the people that consider themselves Christians, often live their lives chasing money. He also notes that we in our lives usually applaud the rich and the famous and forget about the poor. There is so much truth in that.
Chapter Seven: Right-Side-Up detour
- This chapter explains methods we use to convince ourselves that we can balance
between our wish for more money and Christian faith. The author warns that in Jesus’ eyes wealth is more of a curse than blessing. He warns that even though it is possible to live according to Christian values and gain wealth, true Christian would not hoard money.
- More than earlier chapters this one deals with present society and it’s many
forms of greed. It opens many questions that are hard to answer even for Christians. Some of them are: Does working hard justify the selfish spending,? Also - Can legaly earned money still be immoral?
- The author quotes social scientists who say that happiness does not equal wealth. He thinks that consumerism and modern society lack the Jubilee spirit, and warns that today’s social structure looks much like the one in ancient Palestine
- It is hard to disagree with most of the author’s arguments, but it is also hard to fully accept them because they are, in a way, a call for radical change of our societies. The question is can we change our way of life overnight, or is there a way to get in touch with Jubilee spirit more gradually? I would like to so.
Chapter Eight: Impious Piety
- This chapter opens with the question – why was Jesus murdered? It also asks why Jesus broke so many important rules. Among other, he disobeyed the rules of Sabbath which struck at the heart of Hebrew oral traditions.
- The simple answer is – Jesus puts people before rules.
- The author once again opens the discussion about present societies. He asks if we can differ between the kingdom of God and the institutionalized religion. He warns us that the Pharisee temptation is always within us and that once religion gets institutionalized everything gets more complicated with too much rules and various symbols idolized.
- The author certainly makes convincing points – religion can easily become obsessed with rules and lose focus of Jesus’ teaching. Renewing the evangelical spirit would be very much necessary, and should follow a simple, already mentioned rule - put people before rules.
Chapter Nine: Lovable Enemies
- This chapter discusses love as the essence of Jesus’ mission and the kingdom of God.
- The author explains the nature of God’s love with the Greek word for unconditional love – agape. Jesus called this love a new commandment.
- Such love penetrates all social barricades. It is inconvenient and risky, it consumes our time, money and social status. Agape love revises a widespread social rule – the norm of reciprocity.
- Jesus even described the ultimate rule of love – love your enemy.
- The author explains various detours from this christian notion of unconditional love, from the Crusades to present day wars, which seek to administer global justice with guns and bombs.
- I can find no objections to arguments in this chapter. Love is the essence of
Christian faith. We can only say that we are true Christians if we can love our enemies, even terrorists, rapists, or murderers.
Chapter Ten: Inside Outsiders
- This chapter investigates further how true love translates to relations between people.
- The author explains that human communities create boundaries between each other. We often tend to use stereotypes against other people and assume everyone in the same group behaves the same way. Jesus, on the other hand, ignored social norms that divided people. For an example, the twelve apostles were completely unexected mixture of people from different and opposing sides of society.
- Also, the author once again translates those principles to our time and compares relations between the Christian denominations. It is normal for people of various churches to feel a level of solidarity. However, he warns that if we want the church to be “more than a Rotary club” we need social and spiritual reconciliation.
- I find the ideas in this chapter to be positive, but a little too idealistic. Rules that divide Christians of different denominations have accumulated over the centuries and now the boundaries between churches are very hard to overcome. I feel that true Christian should respect all denominations and religions, but celebrate God according to his own tradition. There is no better solution at this moment.
Chapter Eleven: Low is High
- This Chapter deals with inequality among people and types of power.
- The author notes that power is neither good nor bad by itself. Social ranking is also present in the Gospels, for instance the angel told Mary her son would be called Most High and that his power would overshadow her.
- There are several important points on Jesus’ authority. In Gospels Jesus often makes clear that he essence of his authority is not his own. He also never misuses his power, but uses it to help others.
- Jesus inverts the idea of greatness – to him those at the bottom are great – like servants, slaves and children. He turns conventional understanding of greatness upside-down. He considers himself a servant Messiah.
- I find this chapter essential for understanding this book and the whole idea of the upside-down kingdom. For true Christian because source of all power is not here on Earth, but in kingdom where relations are reversed. I fully agree.
Chapter Twelve: Successful Failures
- The Chapter analyses important symbols of Jesus’ kingdom: the towel and the basin, the cross and the tomb.
- The towel and the basin were tools of a servant, and to make this point even stronger Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.
- The cross is commonly thought of as a symbol of suffering, but the author argues that much more than that, it is a symbol of voluntary exceptance, of personal and expensive decision – the one with potentialy harsh social consequences.
- Finally, an empty tomb is a symbol of hope which symbolizes God’s reign over evil.
- The author states that the substance of Christian faith lies in our willingness to walk in the way of Jesus. He makes difference between costly discipleship and a “faith that worships the cultural gods of success”.
- He ends the book with the statement that the mission of every generation is to rebuild the church with essential Biblical values – values of Jubilee, generosity, mercy and compassion.
I agree with most arguments throughout the book, especially with authors critique of modern world. Still, I often find his opinions of the church a bit too harsh. I would like to point out one positive things about the institutionalized religion – after two thousand years it successfully kept the essence of Jesus’ message.
Kraybill, Donald B. The Upside Down Kingdom Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003. Press.