Your Kingdom Come

The Gospel of Luke and the Reign of God

A little boy, six years old is brought to the steps of the chancel of the United Church in Joliette Quebec. The minister, realizing that the boy is quite nervous walks down to him and extends his hand. The little boy didn’t know whether he was more afraid of accepting the invitation of the extended hand or the disappointment that all his family members and friends would feel if he fled the scene. He decided finally to put his faith in the kindly eyes and the gentle smile that beckoned him up the steps and along to the pulpit that dominated the centre front of the church. Then the minister announced to the congregation that this was a special Sunday because a member of the Sunday School was going to begin the Service of Worship this Sunday by leading everyone in the Lord’s Prayer.

Suddenly, the boy knew that it was the moment of truth. He stood there legs shaking and terror struck… What were those words again… Why were they difficult to remember now… He knew them last night…But …Then he felt the warm hand of the minister on his shoulder and his kindly voice saying softly, ”Dennis, its time to pray to Our Father in Heaven.” A lifeline, all of a sudden I felt my mind focus on the words I had prayed already for years.

 

Our Father who art in Heaven

Hallowed be thy name,

Thy Kingdom come’

Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread

And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us

And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For Thine is the Kingdom and the power and the glory,

For ever and ever. Amen.

This personal experience from 1960 I am sure resonates with many of you who lived your childhood in the fifties and sixties. This prayer was the focus of our worship at Sunday school, our homes, our school, our Cub, Scout, Brownie or Guide meeting. It became an intimate part of our daily lives, and an integral part of every gathering.

We may live in different times with different public rituals but this simple prayer is still one of the most recognized addresses to God known to humanity. It is not surprising therefore to me that this year in Huron Diocese, the young people chose as their theme for the Youth Synod: “Your Kingdom Come”.

I applaud their inspired choice and the wisdom of the Diocesan Planners to follow their lead.

I am convinced, that focusing on the Kingdom of God, or the reign of God, as it is sometimes expressed, is absolutely the right thing to do in this time and place. For we live in an age of extreme alienation and distrust. The politics of expediency and a culture of greed have created a malaise that will, if unchecked, lead to the degradation of our social fabric and the denial of what we as Anglicans hold to be a fundamental truth: that God, in and through Jesus Christ, is leading us into the Reign of God whereby all people, not just the rich and powerful, will receive the blessing of God’s beneficent and abiding presence. In that Kingdom the poor, the outcast, the marginal and the ignored, will have an equal place and receive equal consideration.

This is not the vision of today nor will it be the vision of tomorrow if we do not take up the challenge to be the disciples of Jesus that we are called to be. Jesus said, “But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.” But what did Jesus mean when he spoke the words God’s Kingdom? 

I have asked that during my address that Sandro Botticelli’s Annunciation be projected on the screen. I make this request as a means of having a visual reference point which illustrates so well How Divine Wisdom helped to bring the reign of God tangibly into the world through the agency of a young woman: Mary.

Language Considerations Regarding the Kingdom of God or Reign of God?

Before we enter fully into a discussion of the nature of “the reign of God “and “the kingdom of God,” we need to be more specific about definitions. The word “reign” is the English rendering of the Greek word “hegemonia”. It is used in its typical form in Luke 3:1 ff where the reign of Emperor Tiberius is mentioned. The Greek word “basileia” on the other hand is rendered by the English word “kingdom”. In Mark 1:15 we read the words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” [1]

The reason why modern scholars have chosen to increasingly use the word “reign” over “kingdom” is because, in the English language the word ‘kingdom’ seems to denote the formal structure of a political entity ruled by an Emperor or king, whereas the word “reign,” in English, captures the important dynamic of God’s intimate rule. The actual phrase, baseleia tou theou, or Kingdom of God, describes more fully the dynamic ruling activity of God over humanity and the created order. This phrase “kingdom of God” and its twin: “kingdom of heaven”  are so important in the New Testament that they are utilized over 100 times throughout the Synoptic Gospels. [2]

The use of the term Kingdom of Heaven entered into the written scriptures when the writer of Matthew leaned on the Aramaic concept of the “Malkuth of Heaven”. It is not meant to be something different from the Kingdom of God. Rather it is just another way of translating the same concept into “idiomatic” Greek.3

Another challenge in engaging the biblical concept of the Kingdom of God is the fact that the many references to it in the Christian Scriptures are often divergent or contrary. In trying to write with any precision about what the Kingdom is and when it will be in existence we are immediately faced with a series of very different descriptions which lead us to an assortment of possibilities. This has of course led to many different theological approaches in regards to the nature of the Kingdom of God. The late Professor George Eldon Ladd of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena was well known for his particular approach to issues around the Kingdom of God. In an article entitled, “What is the Kingdom of God”, he focused on the challenge to any person attempting to fit the various biblical references into a comprehensible whole.

“The very complexity of the Biblical teaching about the Kingdom of God is one of the reasons why such diverse interpretations have arisen in the history of theology. Isolated verses can be quoted for most of the interpretations which can be found in our theological literature. The Kingdom is a present reality (Matt. 12:28), and yet it is a future blessing (I Cor. 15:50). It is an inner spiritual redemptive blessing (Rom. 14:17) which can be experienced only by way of the new birth (John 3:3), and yet it will have to do with the government of the nations of the world (Rev. 11:15). The Kingdom is a realm into which men enter now (Matt. 21:31), and yet it is a realm into which they will enter tomorrow (Matt. 8:11). It is at the same time a gift of God which will be bestowed by God in the future (Luke 12:32) and yet which must be received in the present (Mark 10:15). Obviously no simple explanation can do justice to such a rich but diverse variety of teaching.”[3]

One would think that the wisest course for anyone to take after such a summary of the complexity of these passages would be to give them a wide berth. And yet, I believe that the present state of the world and the world economy demand that we, all of us in society, must seek to understand what is happening and respond in the most appropriate way possible. The earth and the humans and creatures who live on it are too precious to leave fundamental decisions about our future in

the hands of many who are guided by principles and values which are not in accord with what we believe and live.

As a Christian, the tools that I bring to bear are the Scriptures, the Tradition of the Church as it has been received, and whatever intellectual capacity that God has apportioned to me. However, we believe that these “gifts” are the basic tools that God has given to us as human persons, to help us to move in the direction that God is calling us to. So, God being our Guide, let us be courageous and engage the issue at hand.

The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament

At the centre of the Hebrew understanding of God as King and God’s relationship to the kingdom itself, are the covenants that God established with Abraham, Moses and David. These covenants were the basis upon which God promised to guide, direct and support God’s chosen people through history. The relationship was to be founded upon mutual commitment and adherence to the principle of worshipping the One God. This history of salvation received its constitution in the moral Decalogue or the Ten Commandments which became the core teaching around which the People of Israel would found a nation consecrated to their God.

In the history as it is recounted in the Hebrew Scriptures God acts repeatedly to guide and support the Chosen People; leading them out of Egypt, through the desert and wilderness for 40 years and into the Land that had been promised to Abraham. All of these experiences are portrayed as acts of a Loving God seeking to care and direct the people with whom he was in relationship.

Through the leadership of Joshua and the rule of the Judges the People of Israel were again directed and supported in their mission. And through that mission, became observers and participants in the unfolding of Salvation history. The establishment of Kingship in Israel called into some question their loyalty to God as their King. 1 Sam 8. However, God’s commitment to the People of Israel did not waiver. Saul, David then Solomon followed as kings over Israel. All of them chosen by God and blessed by God though they all departed from the will of God and led their people into various problems which would not have happened had they been faithful to God’s teaching.

The division of the united kingdom into Judah and Israel, the degradation of the kingship, the exile, and the activities of the prophets responding to the People of Israel’s apostasy, led on one hand to a diminishment in respect for kingship but on the other a heightened sense of the kingship of God. We see through many of the prophets and throughout the Book of Psalms an exaltation of the position and role of God as King over Israel and the world. Zephaniah 3:15; Zechariah14:16-17; Isaiah 6:5; Psalms 22:28; 9:4; 45:6; 47:8 Although the term kingdom of God is not used extensively in the Hebrew Scriptures, these passages and many others portray: Yahweh as King, as ruler over both Israel and the world, and this included the created order.

Many passages also reaffirmed the Davidic concept of kingly rule whereby God’s commitment to the establishment of a Davidic Dynasty would find its fulfillment in the future. This, of course, fed into the yearning and hope for messianic deliverance which became a strong element during the period of the Maccabees and in the lead up to the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is clearly portrayed as the “anointed one” the Messiah. From his conception through to his birth; from the presentation in the Temple to Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan, the Holy Spirit is present and active in affirming God’s involvement in his life. Even Mary’s hymn of praise and adoration prepares us for the calling which is to be his and reflects the Messianic vocation to which Jesus has been called. An interesting and important theme that the writer of Luke stresses is the servant role of Mary linked to the message of salvation sent to God’s servant Israel through the agency of Jesus who will become the Servant of servants. This focus has important implications for the kind of kingdom that Jesus is going to bring.

46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
50His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
51He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
53he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
54He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
55according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever
.’

One of the pivotal experiences that sets up our understanding of Jesus and his mission to bring in the Reign of God is the story of his return to Nazareth in Luke 4:16-40 This passage is not found in the other Synoptic Gospels. Unlike the writer of Matthew, the writer of Luke, by focusing on this passage of the prophet Isaiah, is trying to demonstrate, not so much that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies but that Jesus’ mission is primarily to be seen as he lives out the role of a servant. 

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
  because he has anointed me
  to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
 to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

In this passage Jesus sets the stage for a ministry which will be directed toward service rendered to the poor, the needy and the dispossessed. He is cast into the mold of the Suffering Servant as he was in the story of his baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. The proclamation of the “Good News is not to be given to the rich or the powerful but to those who are down trodden and oppressed. This linkage between Jesus and the Suffering Servant is so important to Luke that we see nearly thirty references to passages in Second Isaiah.

So Luke is saying that the mission of the Suffering Servant is perfected in the person of Jesus through his servant ministry. The disciples were to emulate Jesus by going out and casting out demons, healing the sick and proclaiming the coming of God’s Kingdom. They were to do this by living their lives simply and rejecting excessive material possessions. Clearly this expectation springs from the sensible presupposition that if you are ministering to the poor and dispossessed you should look like servants not lords or nobles. Luke 9:1-6

This universal reversal is also seen in the Lucan version of the Sermon on the Mount. The difference between this version and the Matthean version is remarkable. Where Matthew spiritualizes the beatitudes and implies that in God’s good time balance will be restored to the earth. Luke straightly and frankly implies a judgment on those who live privileged lives in the present, and hints at dire consequences for those who are not kingdom focused. He utilizes the common Ancient Near East written form of blessings and curses.

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
21‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.

22 ‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you* on account of the Son of Man. 23Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24‘But woe to you who are rich,
  for you have received your consolation.
25‘Woe to you who are full now,
   for you will be hungry.
‘Woe to you who are laughing now,
   for you will mourn and weep.

26 ‘Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

In our own day a number of biblical scholars have documented the political, economic and social conditions of 1st century Palestine. Their scholarship has presented a clear delineation of how society in Jesus’ day was significantly oppressive. Palestine was a society ruled by the Romans with the complicity of the Jewish elite (at least in Judæa). The taxation system and distribution of land ownership meant that the wealth generated by agricultural production mostly went to benefit the urban elites. The system was oppressive, cruel, and religiously justified. Luke’s Gospel and his portrayal of the reversal of fortune in society found in the magnificat and the Lucan beatitudes is an attempt to show how revolutionary Jesus’ message was about the kingdom. Scholars like John Dominic Crossan, Walter Brueggeman, Marcus Borg, and Walter Wink have all documented and commented on the system of domination which occurred in First Century Palestine.

Even though I have strongly put forward the view that the writer of Luke meant to communicate that the life and teaching of Jesus was meant to alter both our perceptions of what constituted society but also how we live in society, it needs to be said that this is not the whole story. Jesus is doing more than denouncing injustice and promising God’s blessing on the poor. More precisely what the writer of Luke is trying to do: is to show that Jesus’ prophesying social justice is an essential moment in his kingdom proclamation, in which God is shown to be doing something decisive through Jesus as a means of liberating the world from its alienation. The Canadian Theologian John Simons commenting on Luke 4: 18-19 expressed this view in this way.

“The Son glorifies the Father by showing what the world is to be under the Father’s deity. And so the Son at once announces the mercy and compassion of the Father and confronts the material conditions that immobilize human beings, that blind them, and that deaden human potential. The healing miracles dramatically illustrate Jesus’ intention in this regard. But social and political miracles are likewise evinced. . . . If the deity of the Father is affirmed in the liberation of a demoniac from possession; if the Father’s goodness is felt in the body of the woman whose hæmorrhage is stopped, felt in the skin of the leper who is cleansed and in the legs healed of lameness; why not also in the sharing of bread with the hungry crowds, in the banquet prepared for the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind, and, in the undermining of the religious and social subordination of women?”[4]

Taken all together, I believe that the writer of the Gospel of Luke has depicted  the ‘kingdom of God’ as a metaphor for God’s liberating and justice-making activity, i.e., for the most radical conceivable transformation of the conditions of human existence from oppression and alienation to freedom and community.

Endnotes

[1] Thomas Scarborough http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/17432.htm

2 F.F. Bruce, “The Kingdom Of God: A Biblical Survey,

” Evangelical Quarterly 15 (1943): 263-68

3 George Eldon Ladd ,http:/ , What is the Kingdom of God?

/www.gospelpedlar.com/articles/last%20things/kogladd.html

[1] John Simons; The Challenge of Tradition, pp.31-32.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About Dennis P Drainville

Dennis Paul Drainville is the twelfth Anglican bishop of Quebec. He began his episcopate on Pentecost Sunday 2009. Born in Joliette, Quebec, Bishop Dennis attended Trinity College, Toronto, earning degrees in arts and divinity. Ordained to the diaconate in 1982 and to the priesthood a year later, he first served a rural parish in the Diocese of Ontario. He later served as executive director of STOP 103, a non-profit, multi-service agency responding to the needs of the poor and marginalized in Toronto’s downtown core. He has also served as an associate priest at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, Anglican chaplain at McGill University in Montreal, and as parish priest in the Diocese of Toronto. In 1990 Bishop Dennis was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, where he served in various capacities, including as a deputy speaker. In 1993 he resigned from the government caucus to protest his party’s decision to introduce casino gambling to Ontario. Bishop Dennis arrived in the Diocese of Quebec in 1994, as a teacher of English, drama, history, and humanities at the CÉGEP de la Gaspésie et des Îles in Gaspé. He also served as an honorary assistant in the Greater Parish of Gaspé, and later as Archdeacon of Gaspé. In addition to his responsibilities as diocesan, Bishop Dennis also sits on the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod, and is co-chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue of Canada. A lifelong social activist, and compelling public speaker, Bishop Drainville has never hidden his commitment to social change and the creation of relationships based on the principles of justice and peace.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

Tashtoo

Back Room at the Parlour

doreendixon

My little corner of the web

Harper Watch

Compiling the Harper Government's Assault on Democracy

Coaching For Life

Life and Relationship Coach

cancer killing recipe

Just another WordPress.com site

thebishopsviews

Views on Politics,Religion and Society

Kai Nagata

Writer / Videographer

Catholic Commons

Anglican. Canadian. Seeking the Kingdom.

%d bloggers like this: