There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Our family just returned from a trip we've been planning for years. We spent nearly two weeks in Utah and Colorado, exploring beautiful places, laughing, and experiencing some of our majestic national parks. In the coming weeks, you'll undoubtedly hear snippets of that journey as I reflect and process what Jesus is teaching me through all things. And that's what we want to do, right? To see all of life as a opportunity to get to know Jesus better and become more like him?
Midway through our trip we spent a day in Mesa Verde National Park. If you're not familiar, Mesa Verde is a time capsule, preserving the story of the Ancestral Pueblo people who built and lived in remarkable cliff dwellings about 700 years ago. Their abandoned villages are still incredibly intact. We chose the most adventurous tour, climbing up 30 foot ladders and crawling through a few narrow tunnels to see these amazing living quarters. Our Park Ranger helped us understand what we know about these dwellings. At one point he said that the Ancestral Pueblo people did not only dwell in cliffs. Some lived on the top mesa and hunted, and others lived in the valleys and farmed.
Another tourist raised his hand to ask a question.
"So, were these cliff dwellings the premium locations that people fought over, or were these the poorer areas?"
Ranger Brady paused a moment and smiled a little. What a modern American question. "There was no class system like we think of today. People shared what they had and lived in community. There was no upper or lower class. Some just chose to live here, others elsewhere. That's what we know."
As modern westerners, it's difficult to imagine a society in which people are not differentiated between the ones with all the resources and the ones without. It's how we see the world, right? How we establish our value? It's even how we choose our friends and decide if we are successful or not. We are groomed to constantly rank ourselves so that we know who is higher up and who is lower down.
Both the tourist's question and the Ancestral Pueblo culture are reminding me of the radical beauty of God's kingdom vision. Like the ancient world of Mesa Verde, God's kingdom transcends the assumptions of class and classification. Jesus revolted against classism by touching the untouchable lepers, caring for the sick, offering dignity to beggars, treating women as equals, bringing attention to the poor, and sharing the table with those who had been judged as the worst of sinners.
Theologian Greg Boyd writes, "The Kingdom of God has a center—Jesus Christ—and he demonstrated that there are no walls composed of class distinctions that should divide us. This is a beautiful alternative."
A center room without walls is a beautiful image. In Mesa Verde, the ancestral Pueblo people lived in shared community, learning to respect one another and the land that they inhabited.
In God's kingdom, we learn to see one another as God's beloved, and this earth as God's sacred creation. We choose to share community with those who may be very different. They may have more or less than us, but we are learning the beauty of diversity and the joy of sharing with each other when need arises. We acknowledge maturity and authority based on wisdom and compassion rather than accomplishment and accumulation. We understand that in Christ, we are one. And we believe that the expansive ground at the cross and the tomb entrance is wide enough for all of us to sit at. Our goal is not upward mobility but inward maturity, which may very well move us in the opposite direction at times. It's a beautiful, countercultural vision.
There was one more thing. These cliffs didn't even have a much space for bedrooms and storage. Yet every single community dwelling was full of kivas, small round rooms reserved for sacred ceremonies, prayer, feasts, and celebrations. Square footage was limited, but a place to connect with the divine was always only a few steps away. Maybe I'll write more on kivas one day. But today, let us be a people that learn to freely share community without rank, knowing that the presence of God is near to us all.
Jesus, protect me from the need to rank myself and others, and draw me near to your presence today.