He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming. He answered them: “The kingdom of God does not come by close scrutiny. Neither will they say, “Look! Here it is!” For look the kingdom of God is among you”
Luke 17: 20-21
Given the context of Luke’s gospel, it is not possible to hear the question of the Pharisees concerning the coming of the kingdom as sincere. They are continuing to look for ways to diminish and ridicule Jesus. He understands this, as he responds by telling them that one shall never see the kingdom and its manifestations by the kind of “close scrutiny” they have been using to attempt to trap him. Rather, Jesus reminds them, and us, that the kingdom is all around and among us if we have the eyes to see.
When I was a child my family lived in a simple suburban neighborhood that was, in large part, an extended family. My grandmother, two aunts, and their family lived right next door, and the entire street consisted of neighbors who formed a single large extended family. When I was 12, we moved to a new neighborhood, more affluent but also clearly more isolated. I remember well the experience of disorientation and loneliness when my first experience of our next door neighbors was being yelled at because a ball rolled into their driveway. I began to learn the difference between being seen with appreciation and care, on the one hand, and being “closely scrutinized” on the other.
Last night I watched a BBC television play by David Hare. In it a young woman describes the people around her by pointing out that “It seems that rich people are angry most of the time.” Her companion responds: “Maybe that’s because they are always afraid that someone is going to take their money .” It is our possessiveness that leads us to “scrutinize” others suspiciously. This possessiveness can be material or psychological and spiritual. In either case, however, it is fear that the other or others may take what we are grasping onto with dear life.
If our identity depends on our status, economic, social, political, or religious, we shall, to that degree, be unable to recognize the kingdom that is among us. There are those who go out to West Africa to serve the victims of Ebola because they are drawn to heal and care for their suffering brothers and sisters, and there are those who would isolate and imprison them when they return because they are fearful of their own mortality. There are those who give shelter and friendship to the poor, the outcast, the “sinners,” and there are those who in their self- justification and rectitude stand as gatekeepers who determine who deserves participation in their “closely scrutinized” view of the kingdom. At different times we are all both of these types. As in Jesus’ time, the kingdom is among us, but only visible to us when our eyes to see come out of loving, contrite, and grateful hearts.
We should also praise God to the fullest extent of our ability. The praise of God means that a person offers honor reverence, and veneration to the divine majesty throughout his life. Such praise of God is the most proper and fitting work of the angels and saints in heaven and of all loving persons on earth. A person should praise God with his heart, his desire, and his powers as these strive upward toward God; so, too, he should praise God with his word and deeds, his body and soul, and all his possessions as he uses them in humble service both exteriorly and interiorly. Those who do not praise God here on earth will remain without the power of speech in eternity. The praise of God is the most pleasant and delightful activity of a loving heart. Such a heart, full of praise itself, desires that all creatures praise God. There will be no end to this praise of God, for that is our bliss: rightly will we praise him for all eternity.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, II, ii, A