Saturday, August 13, 2005

Where is the Kingdom?

So where is this Kingdom you’re always talking about, and when is it coming? The Pharisees put this question to Jesus as one more way to discredit Him or put Him to the test. His answer? “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…” (Luke 17:20). So He’s not here talking about the ultimate and glorious establishment of the Kingdom at the end of time. The Kingdom is still in the mustard-seed or leaven stage.

But the Lord did say something about looking for signs of the Kingdom, something that yields different meanings depending on how you translate it. Did He say, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst,” or did He say, “Behold, the Kingdom of God is within you”? The Greek word entos ordinarily means “within” but it can also mean “in the midst of.” The context suggests the latter. Remember, he was talking to Pharisees. Not long before this he had said to them: “inside, you are full of extortion and wickedness.” So it seems unlikely that the Kingdom of God would be within those “whitewashed sepulchers.” It seems rather that Jesus was referring to Himself when He said that the Kingdom was in their midst—but they didn’t recognize it (or Him), because they were looking for some other kind of sign. John the Baptizer told them too: “among you stands One whom you do not know…” (John 1:26).

Yet the Fathers of the Church (and unfortunately, some new-agers, too, who use this as a justification for their flaky “spirituality without religion”) usually read the passage as “the Kingdom of God is within you.” Many of them were mystics as well as theologians, and they had not only faith but experience of the indwelling of God, and they understood this as the foundation of our spiritual life and essential for salvation. “Abide in Me and I in you,” said the Lord, so we can in fact look within to find the Kingdom of God—provided that our souls have been cleansed by repentance, true faith and morals, and an openness to the presence of God.

So where is the Kingdom? It is wherever you find the King. He is in and around us. The only place He isn’t (aside from his sustaining presence that keeps all things in existence) is in hearts that have rejected Him—especially those that have chosen to follow the devil—and among the evil works of such people. But even there He tries to get in, tries to eat with whores and extortionists, tries to speak a word of truth and love to them, so that He can establish his kingdom where once satan set up his. In the Gospel of Luke, the first miracle Jesus performs is an exorcism (after He first got rid of satan’s personal attacks in the desert). This shows that Jesus’ priority is to overthrow the kingdom of the devil and establish the Kingdom of God. Satan’s lying boast to Christ was, after showing Him the kingdoms of the world: “all this authority and glory has been given to me, and I give it to whom I will” (Luke 4:5-6). So Jesus had to come on the scene casting out devils and saying, in effect: “No authority or glory has been given you, and you can give nothing to anyone unless God permits it. Now begone, for the Kingdom of God has overtaken you!”

The Kingdom is in your midst: in the Church, the sacraments, the word of God, the meadows and oceans and night skies, in your brothers and sisters. And the Kingdom is within you, for you are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Know that God is in and around you. Heaven can’t wait. The prince of this world is being overthrown. A new day is dawning, souls are awakening. His Kingdom is coming and is even now here: in your midst, within you.