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The Announcement of the Kingdom
by Fr. Francisco Eloy (Syrian Orthodox)
I. Old Testament
The Kingdom of God is one of the central themes of the prophetic message. Its comprehension comes from the uttermost depth of the Old Testament. The emphasis given to this theme of God, as king and as eschatological judge dates from the times when Israel was influenced and occupied by foreign nations.
The prophets annouced the "Day of the Lord" as "the doomsday" and "the day of retribution" against injustice and immorality (Is 2.12-21, 61.2; Jr 46.10; Sf. 1. 14-18), when interpreting the situation of Israel due to its desobedience to God's Commandaments in their political and ethnical decisions. (Deut 30.11-20)
Nevertheless, wrath and retribution are not in themselves the purpose of God's judgement. Actually, through judgement God only wants to restore justice and righteousness, by establishing His Kingdom before the eyes of Israel and those of the world. God begins the new covenant with the people, with the view of influencing all nations in the world. Thus, a restored community would come up and everyone would experience peace, justice and harmony.
The Kingdom of God will be eternal and universal. The Old Testament's testimony knows that Javeh is the true king of Israel, and praises God for being the supreme authority, not only over the people of God but over the entire creation: "The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens" (Ps 113.4). In spite of the sombre horizon of the people of God and the history of the world, the vision of the eschatological kingdom becomes a source of hope. God has already been enthroned as He was yesterday, although the complete revelation of its government is still to come. He has the final word. The future belongs to Him.
II. The kingdom of God in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth
The prophetic message of God's delivering sovereignty is fully assumed in Jesus' Gospel, that also challenged the contemporary comprehension of the Kingdom. The ways of Jesus can not be understood without an eschatological note which is fundamental to it. His teachings and ministry of healing presuppose that the final hour has come: "The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe in the gospel" (Mk 1.15).
The testimony of the New Testament, in its many voices, confirms unanimously through the light of Easter, that this message is true: in the person and by the account of Jesus of Nazareth the sovereignty of God "made flesh" once and for all. In Jesus, the kingdom of God was and still is "within us" (Lk 17.21). The reality of the Kingdom materializes itself in the person and work of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. Jesus' message is, fundamentally, the good news of the Kingdom, with its claims and delivering promises.
The messages of Jesus
The message of Jesus is often communicated through parables. Generally speaking, the people who listen to Jesus are to comment with Him on the parable, in order to face the challenge of, freely accepting or not, God's real sovereignty. The majority of the parables deal with the mystery of the Kingdom and draws the listeners' attention with innumerable elements of surprise.
The Sermon of the Mountain contains many elements which belong to the Kingdom of God. In the Blessedness, Jesus promises the happiness of the Kingdom to those who are aware of their needs: the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are hated (Lk 6. 20-23); the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the humble, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness (Mt 5, 3-12).
The powerful work of Jesus
The powerful work of Jesus, together with His words, make the Kingdom of God a present reality. This is what can be seen, for instance, in the healing miracles, which were understood as signals of the Kingdom, not only by strangers, but also by Jesus Himself: "But if I by the Spirit of God cast out devils, them the Kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt12,28). Besides that, and even deeper than that, the sovereignty of God is realized not only in Jesus' action, but also in His paschal destiny, in the cross and in the resurrection. The clear testimony of the New Testament shows that in the path of Jesus of Nazareth, from the manger to the cross and to the empty tomb, the Kingdom of God is already within us. Jesus not only teaches, but He also accomplishes and exemplifies whatever He says.
Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us for our lack of confidence in Thee, for our lack of hope in Your Kingdom, for our lack of faith in Your Presence, for our lack of confidence in Your Mercy, Lord Jesus Christ, break us, because we are proud.
Christians proclaim in the second article of the Nicene Creed that "He will come again in glory". When we proclaim that Christ will return, we affirm our faith in a history that will not end in chaos but in the One in Whom it began, the Alpha and the Omega...
This perspective of hope is expressed with special emphasis in the last book of the Bible, The Revelation Book. Its eschatological promise concerns all those who are suffering now. "And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more" ( Rev. 21.4). The human communities will also be seen through the light of hope. The vision of the "holy city", the "new Jerusalem" and "the new heavens and the new earth" gives light and instructs our responsabities and hope. This is not an idealistic vision. We are not the architects of the new Jerusalem, which will not be constructed by human beings. This is the city of God. The voice of God Himself utters the promise: "I make all things new." (Rev 21.5). Once we have been delivered by this promise we can continue our pilgrimage towards the Kingdom, without any utopian illusion, but with a joyful hope. The final word belongs to God. The future belongs to God. The final judgment is also His.
The themes of judgement and repentance have been of greatest importance for the comprehension of the two aims of the study, unity and renovation in relation to the Church. Christians proclaim at this point of the Creed that Christ "will judge the living and the dead". All of us will have to attend to the Judgement of Christ, which make us humble. Nevertheless the vision of the final judgement gives us confidence that the cause of justice, so perverted in our sinful world, will be assumed and restored by the power of God. The killers will not triumph for ever upon their victims.
We experience in our human life a great tension between justice and love. According to the testimony of the Bible, justice and love can not be separate. Human beings are not fair; only The Judge is fair. Human beings can not escape from their own responsibilities in the view of sin, but they can face the judgement entrusted to the merciful and forgiving love of God, which is revealed by a predominant comprehension of the significance of the human being.
The search for the visible unity is related to the overcoming of the human division and to the satisfaction of human needs. The unity of the Church is not only functional, but it should also reflect unity itself and the unifying love of God. When relating unity and mission, service and participation in the sufferings of mankind we express precisely the love of God, Who called the Church to existence, to be a signal, and to be the antecipation and the instrument of the new mankind in the Kingdom of God.
The perspective of the Kingdom presumes, in second place, that the Church should be truly recognized as part of the world, as it is made of the same "matter",although not being "of the"world. (Jo 15,19). What is reconciled and renewed in the Church is, actually, the "world" separated from God. This is why the process of renewal continuosly flows back to the world, and returns immediately towards the final redemption. But in the world there are also countless and quite active renewing forces which can be seen, through the eyes of faith, as expressions of God's constant care for His Creation. When the Church recognizes them, its specific responsibility and its own mission are immediately found out; when it is faithful to itself and led by the Lord, "the Church does not fear going out the margin of society, and it is not afraid of being confused or affected by the world's calendar, but feels confident and capable of recognizing the presence of God's action in these places. According to the measure in which the Church gives testimony of the final consummation, which is also that of the future of the world, it bears the problems of the world in solidarity and hope.
When trying to correct these distortions the Christian Community finds inspirations in Jesus Himself. Through the Gospel accounts all the contacts with Jesus lead the individuals and the community to a more abundant life. He is a master who does not impose upon the others. He is a servant with no servility. When James and John ask for a special status in the future Kingdom, Jesus does not reprimand them for it, but shows that they think like pagan political chiefs in order to "impose" upon their subjects. He suggests an alternative model of power which is the mission of the Son of Man: serving instead of being served and giving His life as ransom for many (Mk 10. 35-45).
The Church is called to follow this model, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in its Christian Community life. In doing so it can be transformed into a signal and an instrument of renewal of the human community, and into a strong testimony of God's will in such a way that men and women can have a truly abundant life.
We offend our God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and we curse against life and against one another. We have recovered our senses too late, and we have not finished it yet. We brought upon ourselves the severe judgement of our boundless compassionate and merciful God, because of our negligence, unrighteousness and destruction. We implore forgiveness and we pray for a deep change in our hearts, a radical return to God and the path that leads to life, abandoning the path that leads to death.
We should live according to the Holy Spirit and capture His Presence in the entire Creation. As we said before, the Holy Spirit dwells in the Cosmos, He gives breath to life and tunes our hearts so we hear the earth's pulsation and the path of truth and beauty.
Therefore, what is opposed to the Spirit is not the world and the earthly things, but sin and the power of death. We will always have to start with veneration and respect for all the creatures, especially human beings, beginning with those who are in greater need. The Spirit teaches us to go firstly to those places where the community and creation languish in a more obvious way, and to those melancholic places where the outcry of people and the outcry of the earth are entwined. There, we meet Jesus going in front of us in solidarity and healing. There, we receive and give bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, laughter to the needy, consolation to those who mourn. And there we offer our true spiritual cult as members, one another (Rm 12.13).
Secondly, our own Churches should be the place where we would learn in a new way that the covenant of God embraces all creatures, rediscovering the egocentric dimension of the Bible. This means a way of life materially modest that loves and treats the earth with kindness, the same way as God does.
Fr. Francisco Eloy