We all have expectations of what the Kingdom of God should be, and what it should look like. For some, it’s a Christian leader leading the government and making laws which mirror laws and emphasis in scripture. For others, it’s more subversive, slowly working from the margins to upend the powers and principalities of the world. No matter the expectation, the hope is that the Kingdom will continue to grow and become more visible over time leading to the new creation.
In the first century, the expectation of many was that when the Messiah arrived, he would set up a kingdom which returns Israel to prominence. A descendant of David would return to the throne and restore Israel’s former glory. A careful reading of the Old Testament shows that from the time of the Exodus Israel sought not just religious freedom, but political freedom as well. Many of the laws given at Sinai were not just about how to worship, but how to live together. Later, the monarchy arrives with Saul, David, Solomon, and others who are tasked with ensuring proper worship while also administering peaceful relations within the tribes, and the greater known world. One of the great tragedies of Exile is that it forced Israel into giving up its freedom, which led to the prophets speaking of a future time when the Davidic king would return and Jerusalem would be raised up above all other nations. These prophecies and others provide hope that God will not forget the people and eventually send the Messiah to make things right.
This background helps to make sense of the question John the Baptist sends to Jesus in Luke 7, “are you the one who is to come or should we expect another?” This is not a sign of doubt or lack of faith for John. Instead, it’s a question of expectation. We expect the Messiah to set up a Kingdom and make the world right, and we believe you may be the Messiah, but you aren’t exactly acting the way we expected. We were expecting the reign of God to come in its fullness, and while you are doing some great things, you haven’t set yourself on David’s throne yet. We believe God’s promises and know that someday the Kingdom will be real, but we don’t see it yet. So are you the one who is going to restore Israel, or should we keep looking?
From that perspective, the question from John the Baptist is perhaps not far from our own. We believe the Kingdom is coming. We believe the promises of God. But two thousand years after Christ it seems we aren’t any closer to the Kingdom than we were then. This frustration causes a lament deep in our hearts. It’s not a lack of faith, but instead heartache over our broken world. We hurt at the endless barrage of news streams announcing gun violence and mass murders that are tormenting our cities and world. We ache over what appears to be the declining moral fiber of sexual ethics in our culture. We are horrified by the addictions that we and others struggle with in which our vice becomes our god promising relief and comfort. We lament that relationships continue to be torn apart through false statements and ridicule. We know, this is not the Kingdom, thus we wonder, when will the Kingdom be real? When will we see the Kingdom’s glory and power?
Jesus answers the question of John the Baptist, and even our own questions, in a very Jesus way. He doesn’t give an answer, instead, he says to open your eyes and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor. Or in other words, don’t worry about where the Kingdom is, or when it will come, or how big it will be, because the Kingdom is here. It’s popping up everywhere, you just have to look in the right place.
The Kingdom is evident when a city comes together to help a homeless community that is being forced to evacuate because of a hazardous waste situation. It’s evident when a shelter typically reserved for cold weather, opens for two weeks to give the displaced individuals a place to sleep while they look for better housing. It’s evident when the housing authority works overtime to find permanent housing choices. It’s evident when members of the greater city show up on the weekend to help total strangers move their belongings to their new homes.
The Kingdom is evident when a church congregation that has existed for fifty years across the street from an elementary and middle school and never had a relationship with the schools start to forge a working relationship. It’s evident when church members pack meals to send home on the weekends with students from the schools who are on free or reduced lunch programs and wouldn’t eat on the weekends without the meals. It’s evident when the church opens their doors after school three days a week to provide free tutoring and help with homework.
The Kingdom is evident in many ways around the world. We get frustrated because we read the news and see violence, yet perhaps we’ve just looked in the wrong place. Don’t give up hope. The Kingdom is real and evident around us. We just need to know where to look.