(texts: 1 Kings 8:41-43, Romans 1:16-17, Matthew 8:5-13)
The kingdom of God has no borders, and no native inhabitants. We are all immigrants there, but at the same time, we are also all citizens of that Kingdom.
Now, a text like the end of the gospel for today has often been used to demean the Jewish people. Christian theologians of all times have taken great pleasure in explaining how God has cast the Jewish people aside, and chosen the Christians instead. Drawn to its conclusion, a statement like that could lead, and has led, to horrors like the Holocaust.
On Tuesday we observe the international day of remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. Jews, Roma, people with physical and mental disabilities, Communists, nuns, Social Democrats, resistance fighters... Many died in the camps of the Axis powers. But Roma and Jews were especially targeted simply for being born into an ethnicity that the Nazis and Fascists considered unclean and undesireable. And it is a source of shame and great regret for us as Christians that there were people of the church cheering the murders on, often with Biblical quotes like the one in our gospel today.
There is nothing Christian in killing people. Ever.
There is nothing Christian in declaring the exclusion of certain people.
In the Kingdom of God we are all immigrants, and all worthy of citizenship.
If we instead shift focus to the first part of the gospel, a different story emerges. A Roman officer, someone who is well and truly a stranger and a heathen in the land of Jesus, comes to him and asks for help for his servant boy.
Not only does one of the occupying forces ask for help from one of the occupied, he does it for his servant's sake. The powerful man asks the one without power for help, for the sake of the powerless. The world turns upside down.
Jesus does not ask for any declaration of faith. He does not ask for a church membership, nor for tithing or volunteering. He does not demand baptism. He simply offers to come with the officer to cure his servant.
Because the foundation of the Kingdom of God is not our pious statements. It is not our membership rolls or even the kind acts we do to and for each other.
The Kingdom rests on grace willingly and lovingly offered by God. To everybody, Jew and gentile, Roman or Roma, Swedish or Danish or Indian or Greek.
This means that when Christians are using the Bible to exclude others, they are acting in opposition to Jesus himself. If a Roman officer from a culture scorned and feared by righteous Jews of Jesus' time can be used as an example of faith simply on the grounds of his asking for help, then there is nothing stopping anyone of us, or anyone else, from being an example. If this Roman's way of life, background, intentions or family did not matter to Jesus, why should anyone's matter to us?
God builds no borders or fences. The Kingdom of God is wide open for anyone who wants to enter in. And for anyone who would like to leave and then come back. There are no visa requirements, no limits to how many are allowed to enter. Everyone that wants to get to be a citizen.
Now, does that mean Jesus was happy with the occupation of his homeland? Assuredly not. Just as he is not happy with the state of the world today. But just as true love isn't earned, but leads to the lovers wanting to be worthy of that love, so God's love for this world and us who live here is completely unrequited, but should light in our hearts a desire to be better, to be worthy of all this love, this life, this grace. Through us this world can be better.
The Kingdom of God has no borders. It reaches around the world, encompasses it, lives in the hearts of all who believe. It touches all, serves all, loves all. It bothers not with your past. It asks not for eloquent words or declarations of faith. It only asks ”Do you want me to come with you?”