The Kingdom's Coming
3rd Sunday in the year A - St. Augustine, Tamale (GH): Jes 8,23-9,3 + Mt 4,12-23
If you want to understand deeply the mystery of Jesus you have to listen first of all the voices of the prophets of the Old Testament. The message of the prophets made us experience that everything which happens is a consequence of trust and mistrust towards God – the idolatry as divination of power, richness and inhumanity – that this does not simply bring up some episodes of our life – sometimes good, sometimes bad – in which God stays indifferent in order to make later a report on it as sober as an accountant. Rather we learn that this all hits God in his very interior – his heart, because he simply cannot stop loving his creatures, because he’s worried about them whether they in the end find the way back to him out of their own freedom. In the shattering crisis of the Babylonian Exile Israel with his prophets probably started to suspect that everything it experiences with God is a story of a big love.
So the prophets have dared to announce that God, thanks to his love, holds the human end of the exile in his own hands too – and: that he himself therefore will lead his creatures on incomprehensible ways – as love is always incomprehensible – out of the rigid history. Then: the exile was in human terms the striking proof that in life everything despite all efforts stays the same – that every Egyptian slavery is once followed by a new Egypt, that liberty and protection in the Holy Land are nothing but deceitful episodes between long captivities of estrangement: an evil image of the world and of history, with which only a cynic would be able to exist further on.
Because of his love God will lead them out of this rigid situation – as the prophets announce – into a new Exodus, under the leadership of the new Moses, who – like the old Moses – will show through his own existence and fate how God is like: somebody who cannot be brought off the way of saving his creatures by any means. With the mysterious figure of the suffering servant the prophets have created themselves the portrait of the new Moses: Somebody who is taken into duty by God himself, blessed with his spirit, who will take every man separated from God by his hand and lead him back with the sensitivity of his love. And: Somebody who will stay faithful to his order even when the realizing of the rigid situation and of the paradox of an existence without God turn into rage, which in outbreaks of violence rejects God’s new beginning once again. The prophets know this possibility thanks to their knowledge of man’s nature. That’s why they suspiciously see the servant suffering in their visions. As somebody through whom God accepts even the worst harm being done to him because this is the only way of breaking out of the vicious circle of mistrust and of the rigid history. Just like two humans between who something evil has happened: The quarrel of guilt remains valid as long as one accuses and the other justifies himself, as long as one judges – although rightly – and the other is sentenced. Only in the moment when one absolutely forgives the other, not insisting on his rights without use or advantage for himself, only in this moment they have the possibility of finding again to each other through the barrier of guilt.
And that’s the only way – as the prophets strongly suspect – it can be between God and man. Will this suspicion come true? The prophets hope so. The chosen people live with this hope in various shapes until now. In the bad times of his history Israel has felt and understood himself as the suffering servant with the duty of saving the world. And some men and women of this people have in completely shaking experiences 2000 years ago gained the incontrovertible conviction that one of their people, a Jew, has taken over this duty and fate of the farmhand. To them, he did it to such an extent that through him the final salvation of the creatures out of their rigid liberation history back into God’s protection already became visible, became tangible for their hands – through Jesus of Nazareth. We Christians are standing in the shoulders of these Jewish women and men. What was the reason for their conviction? And: do they and their conviction give us enough reason to live like they did?
That the conviction Jesus of Nazareth would be the suffering servant visionary seen by the prophets became its unshakeable basis for his disciples with the event when the earthly life of this Jesus came to an end, is of course unquestionable. Of all people it is him who made God noticeably present in his sermons like no other did before and through whose presence other realized what it means to be human – it is him who is executed officially because of political, in reality because of religious reasons. And then his supporters experience that the killed one appears radically as a living one, which is exactly the opposite of their absolute dejection – this all could not have a different effect on them but remembering the songs about the suffering servant of the old Isaiah.
Without any doubt, the crucifixion and the Easter experiences have been decisive for the conviction that Jesus would be the servant of God. However, the bridging between this prophetical hope and the existence of Jesus started much earlier – at the beginning of Jesus’ appearance in public. And no one else has given the basis of this bridging but Jesus himself. At first it happened according to the testimony of Matthew, when Jesus after hearing that John had been arrested went in Galilee and began his preaching. To interpret this appearance Matthew refers to Isaiah’s prophecy that the people that lived in darkness would see a great light. Matthew just didn’t do it arbitrarily or because he didn’t have a better idea, he did it because that was the best way to explain how Jesus understood himself.
That exactly fits into what the gospels want to tell us about Jesus’ matters of heart and how these matters can practically be found in his behaviour. What totally claimed Jesus was the announcement of the beginning of God’s kingdom or kingdom of heaven as Matthew likes to say. God’s kingdom – as one can summarize in short – God’s kingdom begins there where one accepts that God is a God whose one and only care is about man – about his life and his salvation. Seeing God that way also means: one does not have to be mistrustful that something in one’s life could be missing. There is no need to be frightened by one’s own, no need to be suspicious towards others that they could diminish the fulfilment of life through their mere existence. So God’s kingdom means the exact reverse of prehistory’s man who is separated from God by mistrust, fear and violence. Where God is unambiguously believed to be a God for the humans, there decreases the mistrust towards him – and there begins God’s kingdom. To announce this God and to initiate this God’s experience inside the humans by getting them into his lifestyle, so letting God’s kingdom begin for them, was Jesus’ main matter of heart – driven by the happiness of his own, absolutely undamaged proximity to God.
And because Jesus knew that the acceptation or rejection of God as the one who is absolutely caring for the man was decisive for the question of man’s heal or disaster he defended and witnessed this caring God until the end. So he did it against the Pharisees when his disciples picked ears on Sabbath to stanch their hunger. Of course the Sabbath is good. Jesus himself has obeyed it; it was highly valuable to him as the day when he could celebrate his God. But it was unimaginable to him that a commandment for the honour of God could cause burden or misery for man – just because it is essential to God’s nature that he gives man – every man – life, and that he’s glad about it. And just like this we have to understand the many curing stories which the gospels report from Jesus. They are never about the demonstration of power; they tell that Jesus restores the damaged existence of a human, in order to witness that and how God is concerned about our complete and save life. He himself in first person is the kingdom of God which is has been come closest to us – or as it says Origenes, the greatest of the greek theologians in the old church, in his language: Jesus is the ‘autobasileia’: God’s kingdom personalized.
If we want to understand how radically Jesus has announced God’s unconditional care for the man – for every man – we have only to take the sentences of the Sermon on the Mount seriously, which we shall hear the following sundays. But before this I want to call your attention on the end of our gospel from today: Quasi simultaneously with the beginning of his preaching Jesus calls the first apostles, the fishermen from the see of Galilee, to make them fishermen of men. In other words: Vocation to become an apostle means to be called in the service of the proclamation and the symbolic representation of the closest come kingdom of God. According to the will of the Lord we as human beings can become and should be integral coworkers for this kingdom. But as we see with the first apostles: Only a first person enthusiasm for Jesus as the personalized kingdom of God can be the base for all human preaching and pastoral doing. Lets pray the lord, that we all can become and can be such apted witnesses of God’s deepest passion for the world.