With all the many different metaphors and stories of Jesus trying to explain the Kingdom of God in the gospels, it seems like it was a very difficult idea to get across to people. Sometimes we’re told it’s coming really soon, or here already. Sometimes we’re told who gets in, “the poor in spirit,” for example. We read that it’s like a mustard seed, like scattering seed on the ground, like a treasure, like hiring men in a vineyard, like a royal wedding banquet — and the list goes on. The gospel story today has Jesus describing the Kingdom of God as not like a thing that can be observed at all, but as something else that’s already among us.
The bible translation we used today includes a footnote on the word “among,” which tells us that the original Greek word entos (ἐντός) could mean “within,” as in “the Kingdom of God is within you.” There’s a lot of scholarly debate about this, some of it interesting, most it pretty dry and mind-numbing. The take-home message seems to be that we can go either way, each interpretation saying something important about the Kingdom of God. So it could be that the Kingdom of God means something within us, like perhaps a new kind of awareness in our hearts of God’s loving embrace. Or it could be something among us like sharing Christ’s love somehow in the world. In truth, it’s just very hard to say what it’s like, which is probably why there are so many different stories about the Kingdom of God in the gospels, but it does remind me of a part of my own story.
In 2011 my father, Angelo, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It felt like a death sentence, and it was. He suffered the pain and frustration of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for about a year, until we decided as a family that the time for treating the cancer was over. I was living in Colorado at the time, but I returned home to Brooklyn whenever I could to help take care of him.
My father was big into watching sports; me, not so much. His favorite by a pretty wide margin was hockey, and he was about as big a Rangers fan as you could get. On one of my later visits we were sitting together in the den watching a game between the Rangers and the Bruins, and I found myself wishing I had been more of a hockey fan growing up, anything to have spent more time with him. As we were watching he did something I didn’t remember him ever doing, he reached out and he held my hand tenderly in his.
My father very rarely complained about pain, but we hadn’t increased his morphine dose in a while, and as he held my hand, he shared in a despondent way that everything hurt. Everything just hurt and nothing was good anymore. My heart trembled at that, and feeling a little silly, but also like I had to offer something, I asked “what about the top of your head?” He just replied “I don’t know.” So I placed my hand gently on the top of his head, slowly and softly massaging his scalp. It felt like a risk since I wasn’t sure how he would react. I asked “How does that feel?” Something in him seemed to release a little when he answered, as his eyes filled with tears. “It’s good,” he said. “Yeah, that feels good.” And then we just shared the stillness for a while in front of the glow of the television.
At the risk of adding just one more metaphor to the mix, maybe the Kingdom of God is like watching a hockey game with your father, sharing an intimate and beautiful moment together. Maybe it’s among us, like the offering of a loving caress. Or within us, like an awareness of that goodness and love through a veil of pain and suffering.
No one can say for sure. The one thing I can tell you, though, is that if you find a metaphor or a story that works for you, that feels true and bears the fruit of God’s love in your heart, I’d give that preference.
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