Counsel for An Anxious Time
All through Luke’s gospel, the underlying movement is towards Jerusalem.
From the beginning that’s where Jesus is heading, and as He gets closer the pace picks up and the tensions rise. This is not only because of the heightening frictions with the Pharisees and lawyers but also because He’s getting nearer and nearer the final destination where He predicts that, like the prophets, He will be put to death.
And that approaching-the-brink feeling is what we pick up in the questions put to him about the end time. “When is this Kingdom coming? Are we in The Last Times?” You can feel the anxiety building up, especially among His disciples.
Jesus acknowledges that this final time is approaching, but He cautions against listening to the nervous people who say they can pick out the signs of it. (“Look there it is!”) He repeats the caution against still others who think they can read the even more sophisticated signals that the Son of Man is about to come (“Here he is; there He is.”).
He undercuts all this anxiety about what’s coming over the horizon by redirecting their thoughts away from the future into the present. “If you give the right kind of attention to what is happening in the here and now, you’ll discover that the Kingdom whose arrival you’re so afraid of – is all around you. Look, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
Great advice for his followers in that day. And saving advice for anyone living in an apprehensive time, in any time when the unknowable future threatens. To paraphrase Jesus, “To the extent you can, take your eyes off the far horizon and what menace you fear coming over it. Stay with the present. Anchor yourself more in the here and now. God is present and working in this very segment of time and space you’re inhabiting at this moment.”
An anxious time in this country and world in these days? It would seem so. We can identify with the worried psalmist, “Why, God, have you gone off and forsaken us in these times?” (Ps. 22)
And that’s where this one-sentence counsel of Jesus, “The Kingdom of God is among you,” sounds out again. The Kingdom of God to be expected not only off but that same Kingdom is working among you, here and now. The justice and compassion and peace of that Reign is in you and surrounding you and holding you. Just as much, it’s prodding you to move your attention to what can be done, however little, to construct that Holy World in the present. Leaning on its presence and working along with it, you’ll come to sense God’s strengthening and calming hand.
Ways to do that? Certainly our prayer practices and religious exercises, especially what we know as meditation, quietly “being there” with the Spirit of Jesus.
And its follow up? As St. Ignatius would put it, “Work along with the Worker God” in bringing about the new creation. Or in St. Vincent’s echo, “Do that Kingdom work with the sweat of your brows and the strength of your arms.”
Jesus gives counsel for any anxious time, but particularly our own. “Take the time and space and place to look around. For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you in the here and the now — and also in your desire to help bring it about.”