[Job 14:1-6 / 1 Thes 4:13-18 / Luke 17:20-30]
The Pharisees were hunting around for signs of the coming Kingdom of God. How would they know when it was breaking it? What cataclysms would mark its advent? Jesus bursts their bubble.
“That’s not how the Kingdom is,” He says. “You won’t look at it and say: here! Or there! You want the proof? I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Kingdom of God is – this very moment – right smack dab in the midst of you.”
Can you see the confusion on their faces. In our midst? How could that be? The Kingdom that all the prophets had foretold? The Kingdom that would bring such joy and peace to sorrowing humanity? In OUR midst? HUH?
Ah, but what IS the Kingdom except the place where the King rules? And the King was standing right in the middle of them all. The King who rules in love. The King who triumphs in mercy. The King who needed absolutely no mark of earthly pomp to validate Himself. The King who reigns by being Servant of all. Jesus.
HE is the presence of the Kingdom of God, plopped right down in the midst of folks who haven’t got eyes to see what’s staring them in the face. The future that He will bring in is already present in Him. Love triumphing over everything – He’s right there, looking them in the eye.
He’s not long now from the Cross, where as King He will sit enthroned on the tree, crowned with thorns, and bestowing the Kingdom on a thief who asks only to be remembered. It’s not far away from today’s Gospel. And Jesus knows that after that and His resurrection and ascension, it won’t be long before even His visible presence is removed from the earth. He tells His disciples how they’ll long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but it won’t be like before anymore. And they shouldn’t let anyone deceive them – as though when He finally reveals the Kingdom it will be in some hidden and obscure way. “Look, there!” “Look, here!” He tells His own: “Don’t waste your time. When I come back it will be as subtle as the lightning that flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. You won’t and can’t miss it. When my day of unveiling comes it will be THAT obvious. On that day the Kingdom that I have brought into this world will no longer hidden, but revealed, exposed, shining for all to see.”
And He goes on: “Won’t they be amazed when it happens. They’ve fallen into the trap of the people at Noah’s time or at Lot’s. They think life just goes on the way it always has. They ignore the creaking and tottering of THIS age as it prepares to collapse and the new age that I alone can bring at My appearing finally is disclosed. Revealed with Me.”
St. Paul taught us in today’s epistle that when that joyful day arrives, the saints who have already fallen asleep in faith in the Redeemer – they’ll rise first and we who are left will be changed and together we’ll join them to meet the Lord in the air. It will happen at that wonderful moment when the trumpet sounds and the Lord descends from heaven with a cry of command.
And His appearing doesn’t just involve HIM being disclosed at last openly to all the world. When He appears, we too will be disclosed. Everyone then will see the glory that now is hidden in us – the glory baptism gave us, the glory of being children of God, heirs of a heavenly kingdom.
The world looks at us and thinks we’re a pretty sorry lot. They think we’re loony for all our faith in things that cannot be seen – this Kingdom we live from even though no one can see our King. But on that day, the Church will be revealed AS the Church, the one assembly of all believers, whom the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, purchased on Calvary’s cross with His holy blood to be His own bride, His own body, His own kingdom forever.
That day, the unbelieving world will wake up in horror to discover that everything we always told them was true, well, actually is! The Kingdom truly was right there under their nose. The King was present dishing out gifts beyond all the wealth of this world, begging them to let Him serve them up life eternal and everlasting forgiveness. The bread and wine may have masked His presence, but He was there and His people lived their lives in fellowship with Him.
How far removed, then, from the somber, but true, words of Job in our first reading. He was pretty down. He knew that man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble; withering like the grass. He knew that no human being had power to bring something clean from something unclean. Our days are determined for us and the best we can hope for is that God goes away and leaves us alone, since none of us can stand before His judgment. Ah, but enter Jesus. Enter the Lord whom, we have come to know, is a man born of woman and yet whose days, whose Kingdom, never ends. In Jesus we came to know that what humans could never do, God the Holy Spirit did, and so that from our unclean race has come One who is clean through and through. We have met in Him One who is determined to crash through the barrier of death in order to provide all His baptized, believing children with a life that has no end – for their sins have been forgiven and His Kingdom has been given to them. The best hope turned out not to be that God would go away and leave us alone, but that He came into our flesh and bore our sin to death that we might never be without Him, His pardon, His love, His grace, His kingdom.
People loved by God, the Kingdom IS in our midst, for the King, the Risen and Ascended Lord, is among us. He sustains us with His promises, His sacraments, His life until the joyous day when He is revealed in glory, and we with Him. As Job would LATER say: “How my heart yearns within me!” Even so, come Lord Jesus! Amen.