Today’s gospel is very beautiful, and allimportant, in spite of it’s apparent triviality. John’s arrest ushers in Jesus’ ministry. He chooses to begin in Galilee, the most cosmopolitan, the most universal of the districts of Palestine. He proclaims, as St. Mark says, “the gospel of God”. And what is that gospel? The hope-giving affirmation, if one takes it seriously, that “the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Those are his first words. They have to be taken seriously.
We know what the kingdom of God will look like, in its fullness, on the last day. It will be a kingdom where everything, at last, is according to the heart and the will of God. A place where there is no suffering, no fear, no hurts, no bitterness, no disappointments, where there is no more sin; a place where there is only us, and those we love, and love.
Ever since the incarnation of Jesus, that kingdom is near, so very near. It has been hooked up to our world, by the presence of Jesus in it. It shone brightly in his resurrection. And then the brilliant light of his resurrection was replaced by the quiet, discreet, but abiding and inextinguishable light of the Holy Spirit, shining on the world, in and through the Church, the ongoing presence of Christ to the world, that we are.
It will never be complete in this time, in the time of history and of the Church. But it will always be present, because nothing can extinguish altogether the presence and the work of the Holy Spirit. It bursts out, here and there, for those who have eyes to see. It shines every time despair turns into hope, fear into unflappable serenity, resentment and rage into understanding and mercy. It flickers like a Christmas light every time an offense is met with a reaction of kindness, every time hardness of heart is melted by the totally unexpected, unhoped for kindness of one of our street ministers. It shines every time we manage to communicate to someone that they are not defined by the mistakes they have made; not in God’s eyes, nor in ours. The finest flowers in the kingdom of God are those that proceed from mercy, in the form of compassion, or in the form of forgiveness. Acts of compassion and forgiveness, more than any others, I believe, affirm the presence of the kingdom of God in our world.
Just as we infer, from the geysers we see bursting toward the sky in Yellowstone National Park, that there is a huge mass of very hot water just beneath the surface, so should we deduce from improbable, unhoped-for acts of mercy that these acts are small bursts in our world of the mercy of God, and that there’s a whole lot more where they came from.
Yes, the kingdom of God really is present in our world. By the grace of God, may we be made to believe in the good news, may we repent, may we turn from bitter sadness in the face of the harshness of life on this planet, to the notion that the kingdom is present, and that this kingdom is the only thing that is forever. By the grace of God, may we never miss an opportunity to engage in kingdombehavior, especially in acts of mercy, for our mutual benefit, and for the benefit of the world around us. The more we multiply acts of mercy, the more reminders we will all have of the presence of the kingdom, and the more firm will be our hope in its triumph on the last day.