Kingdom of God

I am reading a book by Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus. A friend loaned me his copy a couple of weeks ago because, he said, “You need to read this.” I no sooner got home than I saw in my bookcase the very book and the notes penciled in the margins showed that I have read it. I guess my friend should have said, “You need to reread this because you didn’t get it the first time.”

Well, I guess I didn’t get it the first time. None of the words seem familiar to me. You would never guess by the comments I wrote that I was totally missing something. So goes growth. Those who talk about life as being like the peeling of an onion are right on.

I have been thinking a lot lately about the Kingdom of God. I think that the most important thing that Jesus ever said was in the prayer that he passed along to his followers: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This morning, Bourgeault tackles this in a new way. She suggests that we are each on this earth, born into this earthly kingdom, to make manifest the heavenly kingdom within. It is the mission of all, no matter the countless variables of personality or life circumstances. It is actually the Spirit of God within that we manifest as we go. Jesus taught about and modeled this manifesting and as sacrament, she suggests, those who seek to follow him are empowered to do the same. He is both the archetype and the means.

The healing that most impresses me among the stories of Jesus is the one in which Jesus was approached by a crazy man who wandered naked among the graves of Garada. Mark, in his telling, creates a frightening scene: “…Nobody could keep him tied with chains anymore; many times his feet and his hands had been tied, but every time he broke the chains and smashed the irons on his feet. He was too strong for anyone to control him. Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones. Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills, screaming and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5: 3-5) With our new understanding of illness today, it is difficult to imagine the hesitency Jesus might have had in reaching out to those who were blind or crippled or had skin diseases. But mental illness is another story. There are those among us so mentally deranged that it could be considered dangerous to approach them, just like this individual. I wonder as I read this story in the bible, whether Jesus experienced fear when approached by this man. But, whether or not he felt afraid, he did not back down from the call to heal. He stepped into the situation with as much love as he could muster. The rest of the story is well known. He drove out the evil spirits in the man and, to make sure the story would be remembered, he sent them into a herd of pigs. The man, people saw after the healing, “ …was sitting there, clothed and in his right mind.”

What does this say about the Kingdom of God? To me it answers the question of why is there so much evil in the world. I think that the only thing inhibiting the manifestation of the Kingdom is that we human beings pull back from fully manifesting the love that is God’s spirit within us. We pick and choose whom to love, we love when it is easy, comfortable, when we can do so while keeping our egos intact. We love those who love us. I believe that we aren’t anywhere near loving our enemies, as Jesus preached. The parable of the good Samaritan was told when someone asked, “Who is my neighbor?” But the question that comes to my mind today is “Who is my enemy?” “Who is this person or people that I am supposed to love?”

John Stewart had as guest on his show Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old Pakistani girl who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for publicly taking a stand, at the risk of her own life, for the education of women. She was asked what she would do if the Taliban, who have already threatened to kill her, came to attack her. She said, “First I would think to hit him with my shoe. But then I thought, ‘If I do that, then I am no different than the Taliban.’” She speaks with the same Spirit that empowered Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Peace Pilgrim. It is the Taliban that Malala is talking about here, her enemy, the people we in America deem enemies. She is suggesting that we not meet violence with violence. Those we consider enemies are the most important people in our work field. If we cannot love them then we should stop complaining about the evil in the world and stop whining at God for not doing something. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is within…we are the answer.