Posts Tagged ‘kingdom of God’

MARK 12:28-34

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

“Love God with all that you are,” Jesus said, “and love your neighbor with the same care with which you love yourself”: these are the first and second greatest commandments in the Law. Again, these phrases were not new, and even the pairing of the two had a history before Jesus. What was different here, however, had to do with his conspicuous interpretation of what these mean and how they are related. (And this is where Jesus came into conflict with the lawyers of his day.)

So when the scribe affirmed Jesus in his answer to the question of the Law’s greatest commandment, Jesus congratulated him with a statement that apparently had some disturbing ambiguity about it: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Not far? Yes, very close. But not yet inside. What was missing? It may be that what was missing was action, and behind that the decision to act, and beneath even that the deeper desire that drives our human journey godward.

This is the same will to be well that Jesus listened for in blind Bartimaeus. Without this will engaged, the most accurate and inspired insights into the nature of existence and the meaning of life are only “good answers,” but not saving truths. To enter the kingdom of God you must want it more than anything else, then you must decide to take action, and finally you must act. You take the risk, make the leap, and the story of your life comes true.

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EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

When we finally see the truth of the equation between the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation, the gospel of Jesus takes on new dimension and power. Upon closer look, we begin to notice how focused he was on awakening the deepest potentialities of the human spirit. His concern was not for doctrinal orthodoxy or ritual purity, but for the full realization of our intended maturity as creatures made in the divine image.

The author of Ephesians believed that in Jesus the Christ, as the glorified New Man, we can see the intended destiny of every human being. We can see the grace of God in the way he lived and loved, laying the path of salvation through the redemptive power of forgiveness. In his willingness to put aside his individual impulse for self-preservation so as to release the creative energy of unconditional forgiveness into the violent and fear-based systems of our fallen world, Jesus revealed what the human being is capable of by God’s grace.

He did everything with a self-transcending reference to what he called ‘the kingdom of God’, which is simply a political metaphor for the depth, power, justice, and joy of genuine community. In following the path of the gospel, we enter more and more into the fullness of our divine potential as human beings. Through our love in community, God is glorified in the highest degree.

1 SAMUEL 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23) 32-49

1 Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. 

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” 10 And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” 11 When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

19 Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. 20 David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. 22 David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. 23 As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

38 Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. 39 David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

41 The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. 42 When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. 43 The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” 45 But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

48 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Further reflection on this story prompts an interesting question: If David was so confident that God was going to give Goliath into his hands there on the battlefield, why did he collect five stones into his leather bag rather than only one? We might think that, had he been fully trusting in God’s power, one smooth stone would be sufficient.

But let’s look at it again. Could it be another lesson of this story that God doesn’t do things for us but rather works through the instruments of our talent, skill, freedom, and intelligence to bring about the closest possible approximation to what He would do were He in absolute control?s This suggests the further idea that God may actually be dependent on this fallible and frequently disappointing mix of human capacities for the forward advance of creation and fulfillment.

However far we may personally be willing to go with this notion, we can’t deny that the Bible consistently upholds the human being as the primary agent through whom God accomplishes His will. The kingdom of God that was central to Jesus’ gospel is manifested wherever otherwise ordinary people rise above their natural impulses to achieve extraordinary things. Rather than burying their talents, they use them and let them be used by God for the greater good. And because his aim was not always right on target, David packed away a back-up supply of stones … just in case.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

On Easter evening when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, the storyteller says that they were in a house with the doors locked – “for fear of the Jews.” The following week Jesus came to them again, but this time we are told that the doors were only “shut,” not locked. Is it possible that we are witnessing something of a gathering force in this troubled circle, a dawning realization that they are not alone, that a greater power is available to them and even now present within them? They may not be quite ready to go out on their apostolic missing in the world, but this small clue seems to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were getting past their fears.

On both occasions, the first words of Jesus are “Peace be with you.” What is this peace of which Jesus speaks? More than just the absence of trouble or the extinguishment of anxiety, this peace is nothing less than the fulfillment that comes with the vision, the taste, and the joy of wholeness.

For the past several readings we have been exploring the key elements in the formation and health of community – and community (Jesus called it the “kingdom of God”) is the Bible’s most perfect picture of wholeness. Trust among partners, supported by the individual faith in the gracious ground of the divine; fidelity to the ideals and covenantal aims of their life together in relationship; a compassion that flows out of a deeper identity and inspires their mutual care and help; along with the forgiveness that allows them to rise above guilt and blame and recapture the hope of their shared future.

At last, the long ascent of our human spiritual evolution had reached a place where all the necessary ingredients for real peace were present and accounted for. Now it’s up to us.

PSALM 133

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

How very good and pleasant indeed! And yet how rare and endangered true community can seem, especially so in times when our differences outnumber and threaten to overwhelm our agreements. In truth, even though genuine community is the ultimate aim of the evolutionary process itself, valid historical and present-day examples are fewer than we might think and its existence is much more vulnerable than we would wish. The destabilizing forces of egoism (individual selfish ambition) and tribalism (over-identifying with the group) are to some degree constantly present beneath the surface and interfering with its formation and health.

For the next several readings we will be reflecting on the elements of true community, those essential virtues that allow for the genesis and fulfillment of what Jesus called the reign (“kingdom”) of God. The first of these we will name trust, interpreted as the acknowledgment of dependence on realities and persons outside oneself, along with the willingness to adopt a belief in another’s dependability (trustworthiness). Making ourselves vulnerable is a function of how secure we feel in relationship, and also how trustworthy we feel ourselves to be. Our trust in others is a function of our willing and full release to the God of grace.

Matthew 6:24-34

24 “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

We have all come across people who are intent on singing nothing but affirmations, insisting that every problem has a solution – or even that there really aren’t any problems in reality, only in our minds. Cheer up and look on the bright side! It’s all going to be all right; even better than you can imagine.

Then there are the opposite types, who see the cloud under every silver lining. Life is hard and the payoff is meager – usually less than you need or expect. It’s best not to get your hopes up because tomorrow everything could come crashing down. What’s the point in wishing for something better, if day after day it’s just more of the same?

Optimists and pessimists disagree as to whose view on reality is more realistic. Either everything is the sweet fragrance of roses or the sharp stab of thorns, but it can’t be both. Enter Jesus.

Truth is, life can be turned either way depending on the story you want to tell. In the end, however, neither optimists nor pessimists get out alive. This fact can pull your nose down into the muck or inspire you to pin your dreams on pie in the sky. For his part, Jesus counseled his followers to relax into life and have faith in the providence of God, as they also meet the troubles of each day with wisdom and responsibility.

His metaphor of the “kingdom of God” carried the priorities of mindfulness, compassion, outreach, and forgiveness – practical commitments that help to keep the most important things in perspective. When you are fully engaged in this way, there is no time for regret or worry; yesterday is gone and tomorrow is still to come – or it may not come at all. Now is where you find your invitation to life in its fullness.

MATTHEW 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In his zeal to make Jesus the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and expectation, Matthew choreographs his word and actions to match up with the biblical prophecies. Since he truly believed that Jesus was the one promised of old, his job of connecting the dots was not terribly difficult, though still very creative.

Isaiah prophesied of the “great light” that would drive off the fog of ignorance and gloom. This is precisely what Jesus did, so the only thing left was to composed the storyline that would make the equation. Whether or not Jesus actually walked the path, said the words, and did the things Matthew describes him as doing is really besides the point, which is that Jesus brought God’s light (that is, God’s truth) into the world.

The world in Matthew’s day was very much as it appeared to Isaiah way back when, with the same shroud of darkness hanging over the minds and hearts of his generation as over the prophet’s. Indeed, this very shroud hangs over us still, and there still is only one way by which the veil can be split and the light revealed. Isaiah discerned it, Jesus exemplified it, and now we must walk this narrow path for ourselves. The progressive steps along this path are awakening, devotion, compassion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

The light of salvation revealed through Jesus first came by way of a simple message: Repent – stop, wake up, turn around and get back on the path that leads home. Throughout his ministry Jesus would teach on the mystery of God’s kingdom, which is this moment coming near. Now is the time to enter it. Now has always been the time.

                                                                                                   

As Jesus begins his ministry he calls those who will become his disciples, his companions and followers. He calls them not that he might become their object of veneration and respect, but that in following with him in the Way they might come to the direct experience of God’s kingdom for themselves.

This wasn’t a classroom, but a training ground, and the course of learning was not about information, but experience. That is to say, Jesus was inviting these men to a live encounter, to a veritable exploration into God.

The first turn-around of repentance needed, then, was a shift (we might well call it a paradigm shift, for such it is) from thinking-about to experience-of. His knowledge of the kingdom was more than a knowledge by acquaintance than a knowledge by description. You can have love explained to you in a thousand ways, but until you have “fallen” into it and tasted it for yourself you can’t be said to really know what love is.

In the same way, God’s kingdom (and the fact that Jesus uses a metaphor here should tip us off that he is speaking of a mystery) cannot be defined but only tasted, felt, entered, and thereby known by acquainting yourself with its power.

So perhaps the fact that Jesus went to the lake shore and called fishermen to be his disciples rather than going to the academy to call students reveals his preference for followers who are used to wrapping their hands around an experience more than their intellects around an idea. But let’s be careful: a disciple of Jesus and his gospel is not expected to go on mental by-pass! There will be plenty of opportunity and need for critical reflection and logical thought. For now, though, the heart must lead the way.

ISAIAH 11:1-10

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Because we in the modern West have so divorced religion and its concerns from the political sphere, it takes effort on our part to recapture the power of the kingdom of God as a biblical symbol of salvation.

The prophets especially were grasped by its imagery of equity and justice, righteousness and world peace. Their vision extended beyond the human plane and into the realm of nature, where the future reign of salvation would reconcile the deep antagonisms between predator and prey.

No level or corner of creation would be left outside and untouched by the transforming event. And all of it turned on the axis of the messiah-king, the descendent of David whose arrival and ascent to the throne would usher in the new age.

There is no going back to a time before critical reason, when the mythic imagination was the dominant mode of interpretation and understanding. Just as the development of intelligence in children approaching adolescence must transcend (but not abandon!) the creative magic of fantasy thinking and awaken the capacity for a more objective realism, so our task now is to take up the symbolism of the Bible into an historically responsible worldview.

                                                                        

Jesse was the father of David, the shepherd boy who became king of Israel. As king, David had made his share of strategic mistakes and moral blunders, but his humble and contrite heart before God had left an indelible impression in the Jewish imagination as a truly righteous and godly leader.

After his death, however, David’s magnetic example of leadership integrity was progressively lost on his heirs, as they allowed Israel to drift farther and farther from her intended destiny as a blessing to the nations. When his son Solomon reached the end of his life, the question of succession had become hopelessly complicated, with sons, stepsons, and army generals all vying with one another and hatching assassination plots to improve their chances of success.

By the time of Isaiah (eighth century, BCE) two hundred years of romantic nostalgia for a savior-king and son of David, who would restore Israel to her former glory, had produced a highly charged messianism that would still later become the culture of expectation in which Christianity was born.

For Isaiah, however, the day of God’s messiah would not be an entirely positive experience for everyone. If peace was to come to the earth, then perpetrators of injustice and oppression would have to be uprooted and destroyed. If the world is to be made safe, then every threat and danger must be removed.

This very commonsense logic would eventually turn apocalyptic in the coming centuries.