The Kingdom of God (Mark 1:9-15)
There was a story of a farmer who had a horse. One day, as he was selling his produce in the market, he left his horse tied to a fence. Two thieves stole the horse. Actually, they had a scheme. One of the thieves took the horse away and the other stayed behind and tied himself with the rope of the horse. When the farmer came, the horse was no longer there but he saw the man tied to the fence. The thief told to the farmer that he had committed a sin and God punished him and turned him into a horse but on that blessed day, God has forgiven him and turned him back into a man. The farmer believed this incredible story and though he was sad that he lost a horse, he was also glad that the man was forgiven . A couple of weeks later, the farmer saw the lost horse tied to a fence near a tavern. The farmer came to the horse and said, “My friend, did you sin again?”
The first Sunday of Lent begins our incredible story of human sin and God’s forgiveness played throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. In Mark 1:9-15, we learn that the actual ministry of Jesus began in baptism. As Christians, our ministry should also begin at baptism. It is in baptism that Jesus was affirmed by the Father as His beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Then the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tested. Following his victory over temptations, Jesus traveled throughout Galilee announcing the message: “The time has come…The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
What is the kingdom of God? It is the central message of the Gospel. “The kingdom of God” is mentioned 68 times in ten different parts of the New Testament; its synonym, ‘the kingdom of heaven, ‘is mentioned 32 times in Matthews gospel. Because they refer to the same thing, we can say that altogether, “the kingdom of God” is mentioned 100 times in the New Testament. It must therefore be the central message of Jesus.
Jesus did not come to build a church edifice; he did not come to establish a denomination; he did not even come to found a religion. He came to inaugurate the kingdom of God. But what is this kingdom or rule of god? Where can it be found? Jesus mentioned two seemingly contradictory statements about where the kingdom of God is. In Luke 17:20-21, he said, “the kingdom of God is in your midst.” If the kingdom is in our midst, then surely, the kingdom of God is in this world, for we live in this world. But in John 18:36, he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” If it is not in this world, then it must be in another world. It must be in a place outside of our existential life. It must be …in heaven!
Theologians who studied the meaning of the kingdom of God have coined a phrase to capture a comprehensive symbol of the kingdom of God. The phrase they used is “the already not yet.” To them the important question is not where the kingdom of God can be found; the important question is where it is built and how it is being built in the life of the believers.
The kingdom of God is the rule of an eternal sovereign God over all creatures and things (Psalm 103:19; Daniel 4:3). This kingdom was inaugurated by Jesus. By his life, death and resurrection, this kingdom is already at work among the believers. In other words, we who have believed and who have been baptized, the kingdom of God is already at work. It is seen in the good works that we do. It is seen in the things that we say. It is seen in the relationship that we create. Whenever you speak God’s word and whenever you do God’s work, you proclaim the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is within you! The address of the kingdom is your heart’s address.
This kingdom however is not yet fully consummated. It is already but not yet. We have our one foot already in heaven but our other foot is still on earth. The death of Jesus has saved us from the condition of sin but our flesh and blood remain susceptible to the temptation to sin. St. Paul, confessed at one time saying, “the good that I want to do, I do not do; the bad that I do not want to do, I do. Who can save me from this tendency to sin? Thanks be to God who gives us victory in Christ.”
As human beings, we are not immune from sin; but as Christians, we are offered the resources to repent and to change. We are in the world but we are not of the world. That is why every Sunday Eucharist, we go into a general confession, we receive an absolution, and we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, so that we can be sanctified and be molded in the image and character of Jesus. The Holy Eucharist is therefore both the altar of the world where the sins of humanity are collected---and the banquet of the Lord where the forgiveness of God is being offered free for the sins of the world. In the Eucharist, we stand to sing praises to the King of this kingdom; we sit to listen to His Word; we kneel to intercede for the world. We enter into the presence of the King to worship and we depart to serve.
By the life that we lead, by the relationships that we create, by the love we share, and by the deeds we do in Jesus' Name, we participate in the building of the Kingdom. One of the post-Eucharistic prayers in the Filipino Prayer Book says, “Lord, you are the Bread of Life broken for us. May we, Your children, be like this Bread broken and given for the world.”Indeed. Amen.