Godtalk: Thy Kingdom Come - But not yet!


Anastasis, Chora Church, Istanbul by Nick Thomson on Flickr

When we were younger we may have occasionally thought that there were things in our life which ought to be changed. Most of us are well intentioned, but we can keep pushing these things off. Yes, I need to do this, but I’m not ready yet. I’ll get around to it sometime.

That’s a near-universal sentiment. The tension we experience between our desire to grow-up and our stalling in doing that, reflects a tension that lies at the heart of Jesus’ message, a tension between God’s promises as being already here and yet still coming. We’re already living the new, resurrected life, even as we’re waiting for it still to come. What lies in this paradox?

The Kingdom of God is already here but not fully; a present reality but in tension. It’s still coming, in its fullness; still to arrive in joyfulness.

For instance, when Jesus says that he has come to bring us new life, he’s not talking simply about our future lives in heaven; he is also talking about our lives here and now. The new life is already here, he assures us. Heaven has already begun: we have to help make it present by the way we think, the way we speak, the way we live.

Jesus preached this clearly and the problem was not that his hearers didn’t understand him. They understood; but generally they resisted that message. Much as they yearned for God’s Kingdom to be already here, like ourselves who keeps asking for a bit longer to get our life in order, they preferred to push things off for the moment.

Having God become real in their lives was too threatening. It is not only in Nazareth that the ‘today’ of the Gospel was not accepted. In the course of the Church’s history, it has again and again been denied or rendered ineffectual. The reason was the same as in Nazareth:  it seems to go against the grain for God to become real in our lives. Then people’s desires and favourite notions are in danger, and so are their ideas about time. It can’t be today because that would mean our lives have to change today, already. Therefore the Gospel gift can lie unused, inconsequential.  

We’ve all been there. It’s threatening to have God become ‘concrete’ in our lives, as opposed to God simply being a reality that will one day become only too real. Because if God is ‘concrete’ already now that means that our worlds have to change now and we have to stop pushing things off into the future.

This isn’t so much a fault in faith as a stalling, wanting a little more time before we need to get serious. We’re like the guests in the Gospel parable who are invited to a wedding banquet. We too want to go to the feast, intend to go to the feast; but, first, we need to attend to our marriages, our businesses, our ambitions.

We fully intend to take Jesus seriously; it’s just that we want a little more time before we do that.  Like St. Augustine!  After converting to Christianity when he was twenty-five, he struggled for another nine years to bring his sexuality into harmony with his faith. During those nine years, he prayed: ‘Lord, make me chaste … but not just yet!’

Yet eventually he did stop pushing things off indefinitely, joyfully accepting that we were made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in God. 

Peter Knott SJ