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  • Writer's pictureFr. Gustavo

"Whose business is it, anyway?"


Going against the tide
"My Kingdom is not of this world"

As we begin this season of Pentecost, almost until Advent we will be following the Gospel of Mark, which many dub as “The Gospel of the Kingdom.”   In his gospel, St Mark recalls that since early in his ministry, Jesus appears proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was right at the door,” (Mark 1).

 

In today’s lesson, once again we will hear Jesus speaking about the kingdom.  It will not the first, not the last time, and will continue over the next Sundays.

 

And yet, for all the talk about a kingdom – and its implication of a political and social entity – Jesus was adamant against the establishment of an earthly kingdom. 

 

If you recall, when Jesus was dragged to the authorities and when he had the opportunity of escaping death by just pretending to be a run-of-the-mill revolutionary, Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not for this world.” 

 

All along His ministry, Jesus could avail himself of the power and authority which was rightly His.  When Jesus was tempted in the desert to grab for himself all the glory, honor, and pomp of a king, Jesus refused to take the bait.  “Nope,” He said.

 

Right before his Ascension, even having heard Jesus so many times, yet they still asked, “And now, you are going to establish your kingdom, right?” 

 

Let me suggest that to help us to understand our Lord’s opposition to the establishment of an earthly kingdom, it will be key to understand our first lesson, and the establishment of Israel’s first kingdom. 

 

Until Samuel’s time, the early Patriarchs, Matriarchs, and local tribal leaders led the Israelites and took care from minor family disputes to large “tribal-wide” issues. 

 

Research tells us that, once they settled on their own land, “The Israelites lived primarily in small villages.  Their villages were built on hilltops.  Their houses were built in clusters around a common courtyard.  The inhabitants lived by farming and herding.  They built terraces to farm on hillsides, planting various crops and maintaining orchards.  

 

“The villages were largely economically self-sufficient and economic interchange was prevalent.  They took care of their own defense, and if needed, they would reach out to neighboring tribes for help.”  (Wikipedia).

 

Eventually, leaders known as “Judges” or chieftains assumed a larger role, with the defense of all the people and their land.  But, even with their larger role as widely acknowledged as it was, their role was limited. 

 

Beyond local tribal preferences, the “Judges” were individually called by God.  It was almost the case of “The right leader at the right time”.  However, there never was the idea of a mandated “royal” succession. 

 

At the end of Samuel’s time, however, the Israelites decided that to be like the Jones’, they needed their own king.  According to the Scriptures, the request didn’t go well with God, who, nevertheless yielded to their request. 

 

However, they were shown the fine print of what having a king and a kingdom would entail.  And the print was large enough for all to see,

 

“If a king rules over you, things will be different from now on.  He will make your sons drive his chariots, be his horsemen, and go into battle ahead of his chariots.  Your king will select commanders over 1,000 and commanders over 50.  He will make some of you to plow his fields and collect his harvest; some of you will be the blacksmiths forging his shields and swords for battle and outfitting his chariots.

 

“He will force your daughters to make perfumes, to cook his meals, and to bake his bread.  He will seize the choicest of your fields, vineyards, and olive orchards to give to his courtiers, and a tenth of your grain and your vineyards to give to his officers and servants. 

 

“This king you ask for will take your slaves, male and female, as his own and put the choicest of your donkeys and your young men to do his work.  He will take a tenth of your flocks.  You will essentially become his slaves.  And one day you will cry for mercy from the Eternal One to save you from this king you have chosen for yourselves, but be assured, He will not hear you on that day.”

 

Or, in the short version, “Well… You asked for it.”  But as we know God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loves his children, eventually came to their rescue.  But, nevertheless, they had to live with their consequences.

 

My “own translation” has an additional verse reading, “Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental.  All characters and other entities appearing in this work are fictitious.  Any resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, or other real-life entities, past or present, is purely coincidental.” 

 

Fast forward several hundred years.  First, the Kingdom divided, the northern Israel and the southern Judah.  Eventually, the Israelites were taken into exile and captivity, and then Judah fell too.

 

Now, the exile beyond the pains and suffering of uprooting had a deeper consequence.  Exile and captivity, by definition, was the destroying of their cherished ideal of kingdom.

 

In captivity there was no king nor kingdom.  There was no room for celebration of national identity.  Families and clans were mixed up, and new families and clans were formed. 

 

Records were destroyed, so priests of dubious Levitical ascendancy could and did take over religious leadership upon the return.  Banners and any form of national or political identification were prohibited and the remnants of the army were either killed or enslaved which meant almost the same result.

 

And, as we know, even if the people returned to the land, the old independent and proud kingdom was never realized again.  In between briefs periods of “independence” Israel was ruled by weak, corrupt and client kings of the empire of the day. 

 

To make matters worse, starting at the time of the Maccabees, the high priesthood became a political appointment, rather than God-inspired.

 

But the dream of the golden days of David were never lost.  And so, when Jesus came preaching about a new Kingdom of God, the idea got traction.  But as we all know, what Jesus had in mind was not what they were asking for.  God, it appears to me, was not interested in establishing earthly kingdoms. 

 

“No.  My Kingdom is not of this world,” said Jesus.  And when He could really use a kingdom to escape sure death, again He refused.  “Don't you know that I could ask my Father, and he would at once send me more than twelve armies of angels?  (Matthew 26).

 

In fact, I wonder what Jesus thought when he was repeatedly asked, “When are you going to set up the kingdom?”  I wonder if Jesus ever thought, “What’s wrong with this people asking the same question and expecting a different answer?”

 

But the idea of an earthly kingdom was and continues to be attractive – not only to avoid death and persecutions – but to do what God still refuses to do – Impose His will by force, even when He could. 

 

Enter Constantine and start reading the news – and keep reading all the way to today’s newspapers.  And still, in some quarters, some keep pushing the idea of a Christian nation or kingdom or, perhaps, more disturbingly, a kind of Christian sacred empire. 

 

How about a kind of Christian Ayatollah?  A new sacred empire to organize crusades, forcibly baptize – or kill – people?  A new kingdom to reflect God’s mercy and love for all and yet, ready to kick out those who would not toe the line? 

 

Against the backdrop of over 40 million people dropping out of church (or about 12 percent of Americans), when divorce rate among the churched and unchurced are the same, and when almost 90 percent of church growth is just people changing denominations, I wonder why the idea of “more of the same” seems so attractive to many Christians.

 

Is it what little Calvin had in mind when he said that he just wanted “A bigger piece of the pie?”  Or is it the old temptation of “power”?  Or it is just our contemporary culture pushing us that to show off, to supersize everything from houses to corporations to personal power and even church size?

 

Today, in the Collect of the Day we prayed that by God’s inspiration “We may think those things that are right, and by God’s merciful guiding may do them.”  And right at the heart of our prayer, minding God’s business should be foremost.

 

Let me underscore, “God’s business”, not ours.  God’s business is to set up His kingdom on this earth whenever and if He pleases.  In other words, we don’t run the offense.

 

God’s business, our business, the church’s business is to proclaim that God’s grace, love, and forgiving mercy has reached to humankind in the person of Jesus Christ.  God’s business is to gather people under His loving arms not to scatter them away.  God’s business is to gather a people lover of justice, righteousness, peace, and hope.

 

Whenever we engage in God’s business, as St Paul says it, “We will not lose heart.  Even though our outer nature may be wasting away, our inner nature will be renewed day by day.  For any slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal,” God’s Kingdom.

 

Today, as we gather as Vestry, let us commit ourselves to keep God’s business in mind, in our hearts, in our prayers, and in our actions.  Let us keep minding God’s business until kingdom come. Everything else will be added unto us.  Amen.

 

Fr. Gustavo

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