March 30, 2008

“Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…” — Matthew 4:1

“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and charged them, saying, Go not into any way of the Gentiles, and enter not into any city of the Samaritans: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’. — Matthew 10:5-7

“Where people receive the Truth, the Kingdom is near unto them.” — John 4:23

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” — Matthew 11:15

So there I was the other night, in the midst of yet another one of those miserable “dark nights of the soul”, those times in a person’s faith journey where, no matter how hard you try, God’s presence seems so remote as to leave one in utter despair at the incredible sense of aloneness and abandonment felt. Having gone through this kind of thing numerous times in my past, I knew this was one of those things you simply have to be patient about and work through, having faith that God in His own way is purifying you for even greater challenges to come.

For the past week, I had been reading Robin Griffith-Jones’ “The Four Witnesses” a second time, and, as with the first time nearly a decade ago, I really couldn’t get into it and understand the point the writers of those magnificent works we call the Gospels were trying to get across. I’ll admit, I was feeling extremely low about myself and the whole resumption of my faith journey. I was doubting myself and, more importantly, doubting God.

During the season of Lent, I had been praying to the Blessed Virgin for guidance in helping me sort through all the conflicted feelings I have been feeling about my drift towards Roman Catholicism, and earlier that night had come upon a program on EWTN about Sister Faustina, a 20th century Polish nun and mystic of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy currently being considered for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Laying in bed frustrated after being unable to pray my evening office, I prayed aloud to Sr. Faustina for guidance, whining (if I do say so myself) about yet another hurdle in my faith journey and my general lack of confidence, wisdom, and understanding about God and Christ – you know, where my faith journey fit in the whole enchilada.

I’ll admit, there was a part of me that doubted and felt rather silly praying to a Catholic nun – after all, as an Anglican this kind of thing doesn’t exactly come naturally, if you know what I mean. But for some reason, whether it was out of desperation or a sincere desire for guidance from a would-be Saint who apparently knew all about God’s mercy, it was just something that came naturally out of my soul.

I hadn’t really expected anything, I don’t think. But the next day, opening up Griffith-Jones’ book once more, all of a sudden the scales fell out of my eyes and suddenly it all made sense to me. Not from a logical kind of book sense, but from a faith sense, a soul sense, a life sense. And I found my whole understanding of the Gospels changed forever: no more was Jesus’ Second Coming some weird abstract thing that (I guess) could happen at any time but probably wouldn’t (after all, it hadn’t happened in two thousand years, why worry about it now?), but something that had already occurred through his Resurrection and triumph over death. Thus an event in time became like a rock dropped into the sea of human history whose ripples are there to be felt by those with “ears to hear” (Mark 4:9) and “hearing to understand” (Luke 8:10) both today and for eons to come.

You see, through God’s grace I have come to understand that the kingdom of God is not something that will happen tomorrow, or whenever that Doomsday asteroid strikes, or even two thousand years from now. Rather, it is something happening all around us this very moment, as you and I face our own mortalities. It can happen today (“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and one will be left” — Matthew 24:40), or tomorrow (“Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left” — Matthew 24:41); heck, it can happen the next time you drive through an intersection (“Watch therefore, for you don’t know in what hour your Lord comes.” — Matthew 24:42)! With apologies to my Presbyterian friends, this has nothing to do with the so-called “elect”; rather, it has everything to do with our own mortality. When the apostle writes in 2 Peter, that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day”, he’s humbling each of us with the knowledge that in the whole grand scheme of things you and I are nothing but “the grass that withers and the flower that fades, while the Word of God stands for ever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).

(If you don’t believe me, look at the various parables Jesus asks His disciples and others to consider throughout the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, and consider them from this very point of view – I submit to you, you’ll see them in a whole different light.)

So count me out of all though various thinkings regarding Millennialism; when Jesus said the kingdom of God was at hand, he wasn’t kidding. Think about how the Gospel of Mark (my favorite book in the New Testament, BTW) ends in its traditional fashion (my boldings):

“And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen. And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb? And looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great. And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him! But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.” — Mark 16:1-8

You see, Galilee is the key to all understanding – where the answer and the truth lies. What Mark is saying here is this: you want the truth about Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ? You want to know about the Kingdom of Heaven? Go back to Galilee. In other words, to understand what Mark is saying at the end of his Gospel, you have to go back to the beginning of his Gospel. When Jesus said, “the kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He was saying that God’s true revelation – I would argue, the very essence of God’s existence – was just around the corner, to be revealed in Galilee following His death on the Cross.

For us then, this “kingdom” is not some remote existential condition waiting to dawn upon humanity in violence somewhere down the road; if we truly believe that, we do so at our souls’ great peril. If we have the courage to look long and hard enough, we’ll see the kingdom in all its glory being revealed down through the centuries and in our own lives like “the dawn on high breaking upon us” (Luke 1:78); through both the first and the second coming of Jesus, that kingdom continues to be revealed through the lives of our family and friends, and strangers we don’t even know.

Make sense? He who has ears, let him hear.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:09 | Comments Off on The Kingdom of Heaven At Hand
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