Ask any Christian, “Where is the Kingdom of God?” and you will probably will get a variety of answers. Some might say, “It’s in heaven.” Others might say, “It’s inside of us.” Or, “It’s the Church on earth—at least when the Church is at its best.” Still others might say, “The Kingdom of God is among us.” And they might even quote what Jesus said to the Pharisees and to the crowd: “The reign of God (or Kingdom of God) is among you” (Lk. 17:21). (In this reflection, I’m using “reign of God” and “Kingdom of God” interchangeably.)
But the Greek phrase entos hymon (among you) has been translated in other ways. It can mean within you, with you, between you, and in your midst. In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was, Gerhard Lohfink, a German theologian, offers still another translation. According to him the Greek phrase entos hymon could mean within your sphere of influence, or within your power, or available to you.
He says these translations are truer to the context in which they are said and also to what Jesus says elsewhere. (You’ll have to read the book for his detailed explanation of this matter). But saying that the Kingdom of God is “within your power” implies: 1) that the Kingdom of God is already here—it is not something to come only in the future; and 2) the Kingdom of God is not purely internal; there is evidence of it in the external realm. Lohfink writes: “The reign of God is breaking forth in the midst of the world and not only within people. Every dimension of reality is to be placed within the realm of God: soul and body, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, adults and children, family and society.” (p. 51)
Lohfink says that thinking of the Kingdom of God in these terms prevents salvation from turning into a merely private affair. He writes, “It is not only individuals and their inner lives that need redeeming, but also the situations in which they live—for example, the lack of freedom, the structures of injustice, the mechanisms of manipulation that have eaten their way into society” (p. 52). He adds, “Jesus was not just concerned with souls. He wanted a changed society.” (p. 52)
As I reflected on these words, I found myself thinking: This insight puts greater responsibility on individual Christians. We are not just sitting around waiting for the reign of God to come in the future. Nor are we limiting the reign of God to something inside of us, something divorced from our everyday life. No, we are actively working for the Kingdom to be made more and more present in our particular circumstances—with God’s grace, of course.
I also found myself asking, “What exactly is my sphere of influence?” Well, I am a writer. And I give talks and direct retreats. I certainly have influence when I am engaged in these activities. But my sphere of influence also includes things like these: I live with two other Sisters…I am a member of a religious congregation…I belong to a family…I worship with a parish community…I am a US citizen…I go grocery shopping…I do housework…I frequent a pharmacy. I asked myself, “How am I bringing about the Kingdom of God in these areas?”
It doesn’t mean I give a sermon to the woman who waits on me at the pharmacy. But do I treat her with kindness and dignity? Nor do I ask my pastor to tell me whom or what to vote for. But do I study the candidates and issues and try to make decisions based on who I am and what I believe? After all, the major influence we bring to any situation is the person we are.
I do not know what your sphere of influence is, but I know you have one. Some of you are married. Others are single, widowed, or divorced. Some of you are parents and grandparents. Others are nuns, priests, or monks. Some of you are students. Some of you have authority at work. Still others engage daily with people on all kinds of levels. Even if you are a resident in a health care facility or in a prison, you still have a sphere of influence—those individuals you meet or interact with every day.
Where is the Kingdom of God? The short answer is: HERE! Wherever you may be!
1. What are some of the components of your sphere of influence?
2. How are you making the Kingdom of God more and more present within your sphere of influence?
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!