When breaking into any new territory, organizations send out what is known as an advance team. It’s their job to heighten peoples’ expectations and sensitize their perceptions so they can catch the first glimpse of what is coming. And so for the circus coming to town, this group would be out there putting up posters, perhaps even staging some small parades. Their challenge is to wake people up to the worth of what’s just about to appear, to alert them to the attractiveness of what is coming around the corner.
We often hear of the Lord Jesus sending out his advance people. He charges his disciples to go on ahead of him and announce that His Father’s Kingdom is close at hand. What kind of things might such a team-for-the-Kingdom do? This is a question not just for His disciples, but also for each of us as His present day followers.
Their purpose would go beyond simply proclaiming God’s Reign, but more convincingly to do things which gave a foretaste of it. By their attitudes and actions, these scouts would communicate tangible hints of the end product, provide their hearers what might be called a downpayment on the blessings of this Kingdom.
Sending them ahead, Jesus tells them to heal the sick and to make broken things whole. While today we can’t easily identify with miraculous cures, we can imagine numerous other ways of thinking and acting as if this coming world Jesus proclaims were already present. “As if” is the watchword — living as if those beatitudes Jesus teaches are not ideals for the future but are events which can be experienced here and now.
“Blessed are the merciful.” Can contemporary disciples act mercifully toward each other? More extensively, can they provide The Lord’s mercy to groups they don’t even know, people living on the other side of the world who daily must struggle for mere subsistence. Actions such as these might be well called advance payments on Jesus’ Kingdom, appearances in present time of what the world will be like when the Reign of God comes in its fullness.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice.” A twenty-first century disciple would stand with those who protest unjust practices and systems that prevail in society; for instance, mentalities which are blind to the unfair distribution of goods, and mindsets which relegate certain classes, races and genders to the margins. These “advance people” would be delivering on those previews of Jesus’ Kingdom.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The members of God’s Kingdom are those who recognize, at a deep level, that everything they have — position, health, friends, intelligence, life itself — is gift. Their reflex would be to pass those gifts on to others, or the reverse, not regard possessions as meant for exclusive self-use.
When people come across attitudes and behaviors such as these, they are sampling foretastes of Jesus’ coming Kingdom. They encounter qualities and attributes which are showing up “ahead of time,”right in the here and now. These and so many others are ways of adding solidity to the claims Christians make that the Kingdom of God is not some off-in-the distance ideal, but has legs in present day life and moves in our midst.
Commending one of his confreres, Vincent praises God for the “advance initiative” that priest took. “Blessed be the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who inspired you so gently and yet so strongly with the idea of the mission you have undertaken for the spread of the faith.” (Vol 5, p. 462) In our own times, can’t so many of the “Kingdom actions” of our Vincentian family be shining with the same light.
Jesus sends out his advance people: disciples, who, by the way they live and act, make the presence of the New World that Jesus announces not just a wish, but an actual pulsing reality. As Jesus’ disciples now, we’re called to be credible signs in the present of what the Kingdom will blossom into in its fullness. This Reign of God which Jesus announces is meant to be felt, seen, and bumped up against on the streets and corners of everyday life.