The Buzz About God’s Kingdom

Rainbow

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time


As people of faith we eagerly long for the fulfillment of God’s promises—promises made to our first parents of a Savior who would decisively crush the serpent, promises made to Noah after the flood that never again will water devastate the earth, promises made to Sarah and Abraham of descendants and land as a lasting heritage, promises made to Israel through Moses of a covenant that can never ever be broken, promises made through the prophets who proclaimed God’s compassion and mercy, promises made to David of a Son who would be king and a new age of righteousness, promises made through Jesus to his disciples of an new and eternal Jerusalem where God’s justice, truth, and love will reign supreme until the end of time. Either God likes to make promises he can’t keep, or we are just a little too gullible. What do you think?

In the very first chapter of the gospel of Mark from which we read, Jesus proclaims the fulfillment of God’s promises. “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he says. “Repent, and believe in the gospel.” I suppose it’s like Jesus is pointing out to people, or trying anyway, what’s right before their eyes but they just seem not to notice. I’ve been watching a lot of CSI lately, all 15 seasons, about a team of forensic scientists who put their skills to use in solving crimes by examining the physical evidence which isn’t so obvious sometimes, or even seems contrary to the anecdotal narrative. The show is set in Las Vegas … just in case you weren’t paying attention. But that’s just it really. Jesus wants us to pay closer attention because it’s all right there before our eyes and under our noses. The Kingdom of God is in our midst. It is happening as we speak.

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So naturally people will ask … “Where is it? I don’t see it. Where, pray tell, is this Kingdom of God of which you speak?” And this is where the gospel of Mark gets a little confusing sometimes. If Jesus really wanted his disciples to know that the Kingdom of God was truly in their midst, he wouldn’t be telling people to stop talking about it. That’s just how you create a buzz. Jesus seems to not know about creating a buzz. I get that it’s a long time before the printing press, radio, TV, the internet, and social media, but word of mouth was and continues to be a simple and reliable way of creating a buzz. As the Irish author, playwright, and poet Oscar Wilde once wrote, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” In other words, “All press IS good press.” That is perhaps what’s keeping people like Donald Trump and the Kardashians in the news. When people say or do something outrageous, we pay attention. So while they figure out what they really want to tell us, they might do just about anything so we don’t look away.

But I digress. Scripture scholars are unanimous in their perception of Jesus’ habit in the gospel of Mark of telling people to just keep to themselves what they witness. Sight is restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, physical healing to the lame, life to the dead, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. That’s all good stuff, stuff that will get Jesus some attention, right? But he tells them not to tell anyone. Of course nobody does what he asks—human nature. This literary device in the gospel of Mark, which is the first gospel to be written, is known as the Messianic Secret. Scripture scholars seem to agree that Jesus didn’t think his listeners were ready for the implications of the Kingdom of God being right in their midst, and what God was trying to accomplish by it. So he tells them, don’t say anything just yet.

In the gospels of Matthew and Luke which were written after Mark, after his arrest and imprisonment, John the Baptist sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” The gospel of Mark is silent about this even taking place. So without the constraints of Mark’s literary device—the Messianic Secret—Matthew and Luke report Jesus telling the disciples of John the Baptist, to “go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” It is what Isaiah speaks about in the first reading–the dawning of the Age of the Messiah. Matthew and Luke are divulging secrets, not keeping people in the dark. It is the entire foundation of Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing. In a way, he was proclaiming to his listeners the same message, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” Haven’t you noticed?

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And after the resurrection, Jesus handed on his work of teaching and healing to his apostles, and through them to the church. That means the Kingdom of God did not disappear or go back into hiding. It is still in our midst, right before our eyes. So we witness many more mighty and wonderful works of God taking place around us, both physically and spiritually, sight restored to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the mute, wholeness to the lame, life to the dead, and the good news proclaimed to the poor. But it isn’t Jesus himself physically proclaiming good news, teaching, and healing. He does so through us who follow his example of ministry, the baptized, the members of his body, the church—you and me. If you’ve never known or heard that before, I’m telling you now. It isn’t a secret any longer. The Kingdom of God is in our midst. And the whole world should behold it in our words, our actions, and in the way we live.

So you may have heard in the news these past few weeks of the refugee crisis in Europe. The heart-rending photos we see and the stories we hear graphically display the forced displacement of families fleeing violence, war, and economic hardship from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, countries impacted by ISIS across the Middle East and north and central Africa. Just today (Saturday), officials in Hungary have finally granted tens of thousands of migrants safe passage to their borders with Austria and Germany, countries who have promised to take them in. But at first the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, stood alone in his staunch refusal to help the refugees, “raging against the hordes who are threatening Europe’s Christian culture.” He must be a Christian to have made that claim, thinking it was consistent with his Christian faith. Everyone else seems to see things differently. Ordinary citizens and local leaders have reached out to meet the needs of the Muslim refugees. The Kingdom of God is very much among us because those who claim to be disciples of Jesus continue to bring God’s comfort and compassion to the world, making no distinction between the rich and the poor, Muslim and Christian, women and men, deserving and undeserving.

On that note, we ought to reflect on how we live our Christian faith each day in this country. We look at what Christians are doing in Europe and we recognize the witness of their faith. But do we behave in the same way? Jesus never addressed some of the things we encounter today. But if we truly believe that the Kingdom of God is in our midst, and under our noses, we should do as Jesus did to bring God’s wonderful promises to fulfillment … in the open for all to see.

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Rolo B Castillo © 2015