The apocalyptic theme in scripture continues to pervade our daily readings as we reach the final days of the liturgical year and prepare for the start of a new one with Advent. Selections from the Book of Revelation are predictably symbolic, written in a form that is frequently misunderstood and famously opaque. But there are also instances in which the apocalyptic comes through in less-expected texts like the Gospel of Luke in this morning’s set of readings. We read:
Jesus told his disciples a parable.
“Consider the fig tree and all the other trees.
When their buds burst open,
you see for yourselves and know that summer is now near;
in the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that the Kingdom of God is near.
Amen, I say to you, this generation will not pass away
until all these things have taken place.
Heaven and earth will pass away,
but my words will not pass away.”
For those concerned about “the rapture” or some distorted literalist conceptualization of the end days (eschaton), I fear that you’ve been distracted for all the wrong reasons.
It’s understandable to be attracted to the seemingly fantastic descriptions and symbols used to express the unknown future, particularly when the present is violent or frightening itself. And yet, the synoptic Gospels consistently bear witness to a Jesus who taught about the Kingdom of God in ways that were much more practical than fantastical.
The Kingdom of God is like a landowner or a persistent widow or a broken family or a woman who lost a coin or a bread maker. Though parabolic, that is flipping the expectations of the hearers, these illustrations of the Kingdom of God nevertheless draw on the ordinary, everyday experiences and characters familiar to the hearers.
Even in the passages where Jesus is ostensibly talking about the end times in a direct way, such as what we witness in today’s Gospel passage from Luke, he draws upon the ordinary cycles of life; the turning of the seasons, the blossoming of plants—these are the ‘signs’ that the “Kingdom of God is near.”
But what does this mean?
It means, for starters, that the Kingdom of God is not a place like so many of us imagine it to be. Jesus never describes the Kingdom as some physical location or territory established or to be established by God. Instead, the Kingdom is better imagined by that other synoptic descriptor, the Reign of God (Basileia tou Theou). Jesus wasn’t announcing the impending Reign of God, the nearness of the Kingdom because some frightening divine action was coming to overtake creation. Instead, Jesus was proclaiming the nearness of the Kingdom because the potency for God’s Reign (Basileia tou Theou) is always and everywhere present.
Jesus instructed his disciples to remember this truth in the foundational prayer of the Christian tradition: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven'” (Matthew 6:9-10). The Kingdom of God comes, God Reigns on earth as in heaven, when we do the will of God!
How simple a truth, yet how difficult a reality to exercise. As surely as the trees will blossom and the summer will come, the Reign of God is already here; that is, for those who do the will of God as Jesus demonstrated for us. The will of God is encapsulated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, it is described time and again in the parable that highlight the absurdity of God’s gratuity, the love that is sacrificial, the forgiveness that is unconditional, and the willingness to meet the other exactly as they are and not as we would have them be.
As another liturgical year comes to a close, may we open our eyes and our hears, our minds and our hearts to recognize the coming of Kingdom of God present in our midst and proclaim the Reign of God by our words and deeds as Jesus taught us to follow God’s will.