Thursday, November 18, 2010

Indeed, the kingdom of God is within you

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed; the kingdom of God is within you."

Then He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day. But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed. In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left." And they answered and said to Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together."

- Luke 17:20-37

Yesterday, we read the story of the ten lepers who were healed by Jesus. They were sent to the temple to show themselves to the priest - for leprosy and those afflicted, and their ability to participate in community, was regulated by the priesthood. On their way to the temple, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to thank Him and to give glory to God. See Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?

Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; . . ." My study bible has a note here that reads, "With observation implies by external or tangible means measurable by man." In yesterday's reading, we were told that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem. Therefore, there is a note interjected into these passages that He is on His way to His final journey: to the Passion and all that it means. We are entering into realms that teach the deepest mysteries: about our ties with God, our true spiritual perception, and Judgment - all of which will be touched upon in today's reading. Here, Jesus begins His teaching on spiritual perception and understanding to the Pharisees.

" ... nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed; the kingdom of God is within you." My study bible notes: "The kingdom of God is an invisible, spiritual reality present within the Christian believer. The Greek for 'within you' can also be translated 'among you' or 'in your midst.' To eyes that see, the mystery of the Kingdom is a radiant spiritual glory throughout creation." I think it's important that we understand that the primary impact of the Greek is the translation "within you" - and that the other English translations may be secondary meanings in the Greek. This is my personal impression from the Greek used for this passage - that is to say, the words imply an interior reality (ἐντὸς), and that if it were limited to "among you" it probably would have been phrased differently in the original Greek. The phrase itself reflects the Two Greatest Commandments: the interior reality of loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and the active reality this must create of loving relationship to one another - and indeed to all of creation, as the note in my study bible would indicate. This part of today's reading, about mystical perception, is directed to the Pharisees, whom Jesus often criticizes as hypocrites. He is directing them to the care of their internal spiritual perception and duties of love and mercy.

"Then He said to the disciples, "The days will come when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' Do not go after them or follow them. For as the lightning that flashes out of one part under heaven shines to the other part under heaven, so also the Son of Man will be in His day." My study bible says here: "Prior to Christ's Second coming, Christians should not be misled by deceptive calls or signs. The glorious return of Christ will be as evident as lightning." Again, we have emphasis on an interior or mystical reality that cannot be perceived by physical signs: that is, until the very end which will be evident to all people at the same time. And we move on from the speech to the Pharisees to teachings to His disciples: they have one Master, one Teacher. After His Passion and Resurrection, a new reality will be present to them, and "His day" will manifest in a way that is known to all and for all.

"But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation." This verse distinctively divides the teachings to His disciples - between those that teach them about "His day" and those that prepare them for the times to come before that day, the times in which we presently dwell. They are punctuated, framed and defined by this central act of the Passion that is to come, for which He is preparing them as He makes His way to Jerusalem.

"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man. They ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed." A note reads, "These verses are a warning to be prepared. The coming of Christ will be like a fire of judgment on many who are preoccupied with daily pursuits, but are oblivious of the things of God." There's only one way to be prepared for this day, and that is to keep the understanding of God's love in our hearts and to seek to increase it through our approach to God, to be vigilant in the practice of God's love and mercy in our awareness of His teachings, and to seek God's illumination within us for our understanding of how best to practice that love.

"In that day, he who is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them away. And likewise the one who is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it." A note here says, "The absolute value of God's Kingdom requires urgent preparedness and decisive action to preserve one's life eternally." I believe this is a plea to the urgency of seeking the kingdom in discipleship. It is reflective of Jesus' words earlier in Luke's Gospel: "No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." We're not here simply to think about work and earning and planning and all manner of worldly life - but to consider what it is to empty that life to the kingdom and the pursuit of the love of God, which will have already been offered on the Cross as our gift.

"I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed: the one will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together: the one will be taken and the other left. Two men will be in the field: the one will be taken and the other left." A note reads, "The coming of Christ will entail a sudden, unexpected separation of destinies for friends and coworkers alike, depending on their preparedness for the Kingdom. One will be taken and the other left (v. 36): One will be taken to a place of judgment and death." It's a stark picture of what it means that the kingdom of God is all about an interior life - two people who are as intimate as sharing a bed may have completely different identities in that destiny; two who work closely together may find antithetically different dispositions. It's a deeply personal interior reality that is reflected in this day: the "fire" that Christ brings (in Matthew's Gospel He speaks of the sword) that will create separation even amongst our most intimate worldly relationships. The fire and the sword are both metaphors for His truth - and today's teachings tell us very importantly that these differences might not be perceived at all by ourselves, but it is God's judgment, that of "the knower of hearts", that does the perceiving and the judging, not us.

And they answered and said to Him, "Where, Lord?" So He said to them, "Wherever the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together." A note here reads: "This proverb used by Jesus signifies that His glorious return will come as inevitably and clearly as birds of prey can be seen from afar gathering around a carcass (see Matt. 24:28). The disciples' question, Where, Lord? seems to refer to Jesus' earlier words (vv. 34-36)." In Matthew's Gospel, these words are given together with a discussion of what is to come in Jerusalem - the destruction of the temple is irrevocably intertwined with this day of the Son of Man and the prophecy of Daniel. But here in Luke's Gospel, we have a more cosmic or universal picture of that Day for all the outsiders, the Gentiles, included in discipleship and mission. This mysterious saying can have many meanings and interpretations.

As Jesus begins the final journey toward Jerusalem, and His Passion and death on the Cross, we are given the things of great depth and mystery: how we are to relate to and understand this kingdom, how we are to be prepared for His return, how we are to live our lives in this period as we await. The kingdom will not be obvious to us. There are no roadsigns to teach us where and how to go in some outward physical sense. We can't even tell which of those among us will be taken and which will not. This is a deeply interior journey of discipleship we enter - and a reality perceptible to those who develop spiritual eyes and ears and who seek this kingdom. Discipleship, then, becomes more precious to us after the days of His death, when the Son of Man is no longer here in flesh and blood to teach and be with the disciples. As Jesus once taught that the bridegroom's friends feast when He is with them, and the days will come when they will fast, we remember what that means. Jesus is preparing them for discipleship, and the days of fasting, when it will become all-important for us to focus on the pursuit of this kingdom and our own righteousness and the practice of His love and teachings about mercy. We know, also, that He will send a Comforter - which cannot be discerned by obvious physical means, to lead us in His Way. This is our vigilance, and we seek to fast from that which distracts us from seeking it, in whatever form that distraction may take. How do you practice vigilance and discipleship? This is the key question for our time - the time that has been with us since His death and Resurrection, the time in which we "await." Our time is symbolized by the Cross, in which we, too, seek to be like Him, and empty our worldly lives for the pursuit of that kingdom that is within us.


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