"After John had been imprisoned, Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, saying: "Its time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near; change your mind and thinking and believe in the gospel."
--Mark 1: 14-15 (P.H. Epps translation)
He said that the Kingdom of God has come near. Really? Are ya sure, Jesus? I look around and sometimes have a really hard time believing that. I see people so splintered and divided by their own versions of truth that they can’t listen to each other. I see men with great power, privilege, and responsibility abuse those things and bring great suffering. I see a world, much like the one Jesus knew, where the poor are beaten down, the rich just keep getting richer, and the measure of a nation is the size of their weapons, not the amount of mercy in their hearts. I don’t know about you, but sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that the Kingdom has already come.
But that’s what he said. The very first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the very first Gospel is this: the Kingdom of God has come near. The Greek word that’s used here is engizo, which is a present-tense verb that means something is here, present, or at hand. This is why translations like the King James Version say that the Kingdom is at hand, while others like the New International Version say that the Kingdom is here. Regardless of how you translate the verb, the meaning is still the same: Jesus is telling us, plain and simple, that the Kingdom is a present reality! You don’t have to keep wishing and hoping for it in the far off future.
So much of our faith is based on the promise that the Kingdom is coming in the future; after all, we say it in the Lord’s Prayer—“thy kingdom come,” future tense—and we have the promise of it in our Nicene Creed—“his Kingdom will have no end.” It’s engrained in us to look to the future, as though the Kingdom of God is something that is far off, distant, and on the horizon. Someday it will come, we say, and so we keep waiting and hoping while we remain here in this cruel world.
A wise teacher once admonished a would-be student. “All his life has he looked away to the future, to the horizon,” said the teacher, poking the student with his cane. “Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing!” The student’s name was Luke Skywalker, and the teacher’s name was Yoda. Luke had always dreamed of something bigger than himself, some grand and glorious destiny as a galactic hero, and so he traveled to the far off world of Dagobah to seek the counsel of the wise old Jedi Master Yoda. He thought the Force was something far away, something he had to obtain, but what he didn't realize, and what Yoda kept trying to get him to see, was that the Force was right there, inside him all the time. He dreamed of something far away, but if he would only open his eyes and see that which was right in front of him, he would know the Force in ways that he could not imagine. If you’ve seen The Last Jedi you know that, even as an old man, Luke still has a hard time seeing the present reality.
A wise teacher, who understood that the Divine is not far, far away, but is right here!
Brothers and sisters, our present reality is that the Kingdom of God is not some far-off, distant dream for which we hope and pine. No, it is here! It is in you, and it is around you. Much like the Force, which Luke thought was so very far away and impossible to obtain, the Kingdom of God surrounds you, penetrates you, and binds the very galaxy together! You don’t have to travel far to find it, and you don’t need to sit around and wait for it to be revealed to you. We can all know the present reality of the Kingdom. We can see it, and we can be participants in it if we only allow ourselves to do so. I wonder: do you really know that the Kingdom is already here, and that it is in you and all around you?
I know that the Kingdom of God is here whenever I sit with people who are dying. They tell me about their hope in God, and it is seldom a hope in something that is future-based, instead it is present, sustaining them, lifting them up in their final days. I know the Kingdom is here when I talk to men in prison, who get by only because they know Jesus is there with them. I know the Kingdom is real when I see people who have suffered tremendous heartache put one foot in front of the other and not only face each day but bring light and love to those around them and let those folks do the same for them. And I know the Kingdom is here is those little ways that are anything but little, like when I see strangers helping one another when their cars get stuck—as a very nice young man helped Kristen and me when our car went sideways in the snow lastThursday. I know the Kingdom is here, and I know that it is good!
The thing about Greek that is so cool is that a present-tense verb doesn’t just mean that something is happening in the present moment, but that it happens right now and will continue to happen into eternity until something compels it to stop. So when Mark uses the verb engizo to say the Kingdom has come near, he means it’s come and it’s going to continue into eternity until something causes it to stop. Well, we know that there ain't nothing causing the Kingdom of God to stop! It is here, and it ain’t going nowhere, brothers and sisters! We need only have eyes to see it and ears to listen for it.
Yes, our hope is in something that has not yet happened, the coming of God’s Kingdom in that final, glorious day, but sometimes we forget that it has, in fact, already come. That already-not yet is one of the greatest tensions of the Gospel, but it’s also a beautiful tension. We don’t just hope for something in the future, we experience it in the present reality. That word Gospel comes from evangelion, from which we get the word evangelist, and it means “good news.” This, then, is the good news that Jesus was proclaiming, what he calls us to proclaim: the Kingdom of God has come near! While the world may be filled with anger, fear, pain, and suffering, God is good—all the time!—which means that all things that come from God are good. This world is good. You are good. And if you are good, then you are well-equipped to go and proclaim that good news to others that they need not look for the Kingdom on the horizon but inside themselves and all around.