Are there any grammar hounds among you? Anyone who just loves to correct others when they misspell “their,” or “they’re,” or “there?” Perhaps you won’t admit it, because it is not often a trait looked upon fondly by your peers, but sometimes grammar is incredibly important.
This is one of those times. This week Jesus tells his disciples, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.” That is a pretty standard translation of the verse. Most of the time we read that and we think that we are reading the future tense—God will be giving us the kingdom sometime down the road. However, in Greek, the verb that means “to give” is in an aorist tense—that means it is past tense. In other words, for all those non-grammar hounds, God already gave us the kingdom. The kingdom has been established. The kingdom is all around us. We are already a part of God’s kingdom. So a better reading might be, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father is delighted to have given you the kingdom.”
Though many of you may be shaking your head and thinking, “what difference does it make?” It does make a difference. Often times, Christians tend to be forward focused—we are working towards attainment of God’s kingdom, we are looking for to the kingdom to come. While there is certainly something to be said for God’s promise of what is to come for each of us, there is a danger in too much forward thinking—we forget the here and now. At times, the church has been so focused on saving souls for the afterlife, that we have forgotten the people that lie in need before us right now, in God’s kingdom that Jesus tells us is already here. At times, we are so worried about believing the right things so that we might be with God in the kingdom of heaven to come, that we forget that God placed us in this world as stewards of this kingdom. The result is often that we neglect our responsibilities to each other, and to this earth. Just this morning I was reading the paper and came across this article, that is disturbing: A stunning prediction of climate science — and basic physics — may now be coming true. Say whatever you will about the politics of climate change, the fact of the matter is that there is no question that we have fallen short of the calling God has given us to care for the earth.
The passage that follows Jesus statement, “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father is delighted to have given you the kingdom,” is one that is often used to think about the kingdom “to come” in the future. “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps lit…You also must be ready, because the Human One is coming at a time when you don’t expect him.” The way we have traditionally read this is that we must be on our best behavior because we don’t know when Jesus will return and establish the kingdom. In fairness, that is how it reads in Matthew. However, Luke is doing something different. If indeed, Luke’s message is that the kingdom is established, we have to read this as a reminder that our service is never done. It means we have to be aware, because the kingdom is happening around us all the time, and we are supposed to be caring for that kingdom now—not in the hope (or threat) of things to come. No—instead, it is in the realization that Christ has great faith in us to care for the kingdom now.
If we are reading this correctly, I think it is a call to service now. It is a reminder that we cannot rest on our laurels while there are problems to be solved and people to be served in this world now. Truly, we are a people that God has already graced with the kingdom of God—so act like it! It reminds me of the saying by Rabbi Tarfon in the Pikrei Avot: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”
Friends, God’s kingdom is in our midst all the time. I hope that is a reminder that we really ought to be better about caring for it, as it is all around us.