Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Luke 17:20-21 (NIV)
One of the things I’ve come to embrace, the further I’ve pressed into this journey, is that we as human beings are earthbound in the way we see and react to everything around us. Interacting with our world through five senses leads us to perceive and believe that spiritual things are bound by temporal limits. We think and speak of heaven and hell as fixed positions somewhere and relegate the general direction of “above” (because we look at the night sky and perceive vast and infinite unknown) and “below” (because we watch the dead be buried in the ground and the bad place to which they go must be further down). The miracles were fairy tales and the resurrection could never have happened because for the majority of us these things don’t happen in our earthly human experience.
Along the way, I’ve come to realize that Jesus was constantly speaking of things that are real, but beyond our earthbound senses. I’m reminded of the prophet Elisha and his servant. Surrounded by an entire enemy army, Elisha tells his servant “There are actually more for us than against us.” Elisha prayed that his servant’s “eyes” might be “opened” and when they were he could see a vast army of angels encircling them. (2 Kings 6)
Jesus carries on this teaching of a dimension, realm, reality, that is just as real but lies beyond the boundaries of our senses. The problem, then, is that I try to describe a reality beyond my senses but I only have the language and reality I’ve experienced through my senses to describe it. Those very attempts at description will naturally fall short because even my words and language have their earthly, human limits.
In today’s chapter, Jesus is asked when “God’s kingdom” would come. They are seeking a fixed point of time that their earthbound brains can accept and perceiving that God’s kingdom looks like an earthly kingdom. Jesus pushes back at the limits of their human perceptions:
Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
It isn’t seen with human eyes, Jesus said. It’s not a fixed position that can be labeled on Google Earth. He then tells them that God’s kingdom is right in their midst, hiding in plain sight.
Now the original language Jesus used, and the language Dr. Luke used to retell the story, must be translated into English. Translations are a sticky wicket. Scholars have landed both on the phrase being “within you” and “in your midst” (there’s actually a footnote in the NIV version stating this).
Now I run into another earthbound reality of human reason, which tends to like to boil things down into binary choices: either or, right or wrong, black or white, true or false, this or that. My perpetual sojourn through the Great Story, however, has convinced me that God’s base language is metaphor, and metaphors are layered with meaning which is why the same words, phrases, stories, and passages can have different but just as relevant meaning to me today as when I studied the same passage years ago.
So was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is in your midst because I’m the incarnate Christ standing right in front you“?
Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is not a fixed position in time and space but a place you inhabit internally and spiritually“?
Was Jesus saying, “When I am in you and you are in me, you are the kingdom of God“?
Was Jesus saying, “The kingdom of God is within you when you love God and others as I have been showing you“?
My spirit answers:
In the quiet this morning I find my spirit engaged, creativity enlivened, mind curious, and heart imaginative as I think about spiritual realities beyond my earthbound senses. It’s all over the chapter in what Jesus was saying….
- When you cause someone else to stumble, and harm innocents, you reveal your spiritual condition, and it is not the kingdom of God. (vs. 1-2)
- When the kingdom of God is within you then forgiveness and grace will pour out of your heart and life no matter how many times you’ve been wronged. (vs. 3-4)
- When you get beyond your earthbound senses and God’s kingdom is within, you’ll find that the “impossible” is “possible.” (vs. 6)
- When you embrace God’s kingdom, you find peace and contentment in your divine role in the Great Story. (vs. 7-10)
- The Kingdom of God is not tied to a particular nation, tribe, race, or institution. It’s deeper than flesh, blood, genetics, citizenship, or doctrinal adherence. A huge number of people who should “get it” don’t and even the most unlikely of outcasts and outsiders will. (vs. 11-19)
- There will come a time when the fecal matter will be propelled with great velocity at the electric, rotary oscillator of this world; A climactic collision of that which is temporal and that which is spirit. (vs. 22-37)
Jesus was always getting His followers to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, and to feel beyond the limits of what is physical. Because when you do, it changes how you relate to everything else along your journey. It’s taken me a long time to get that. I’ve still got a long way to go.