“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” That’s the question the apostles ask Jesus in today’s first reading (Acts 1:6-14). In one form or another it’s probably a question we’ve all asked at times throughout our lives. Aren’t there things in your life and world today in need of restoration?
Look within yourself. Look at the world around you. What parts of your life need restoring? What does restoration of the kingdom in your life mean for you today? What would restoration of the kingdom look like in Uvalde? What is the kingdom we want restored? How would the restored kingdom change your daily life, decisions, and priorities?
Restoration is often how we pray and what we pray for. Think about your prayer requests or what others have asked you to pray for. It’s probably about some type of restoration. We want Jesus to fix or put back together something in our lives or world that has become disordered, broken, or lost. And why wouldn’t we? The gospel stories show him to be more than capable and there’s certainly plenty of work to be done. Opportunities for restoring the kingdom are everywhere.
But what if they are our opportunities as much as or maybe even more than they are opportunities for Jesus? What if you and I are the ones to restore the kingdom?
Here’s why I’m asking those questions. The apostles expect Jesus to restore the kingdom and they want to know if now is the time. “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus, however, doesn’t answer their question. Instead, he moves the focus from himself back to them. He says, “You will receive power.” “You will be my witnesses.” Maybe he’s really saying, “You will be the restorers of the kingdom.”
That’s what God said through the prophet Isaiah, “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in” (Is. 58:12).
Have you ever thought of yourself as having the ability and responsibility to restore the kingdom? What if that’s our work; to give existence to the kingdom in this time and place?
In our gospel reading a couple of weeks ago Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Perhaps even restore the kingdom?
And yet, how often do we stand around like the apostles “gazing up toward heaven”? What are we looking for? What are we waiting for?
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” the two men in white ask the apostles. I don’t think they are asking for an answer or an explanation. They are telling us there is somewhere else to be looking.
What if instead of looking up toward heaven we focused on what is happening down here on earth? After all, every Sunday we pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Do we really mean that? How much do we want it? And what are we willing to do about it? What if we moved our focus from Jesus to our neighbor? After all, if we do not love a brother or sister whom we have seen we cannot love God whom we have not seen. (1 John 4:20)
The apostles watched as “[Jesus] was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. “The withdrawal of God from our view is always a matter of justice, of God’s deflecting our eyes from God to the neighbor.” (John D. Caputo, On Religion, 202) Jesus’ withdrawal from our view opens a space in which we can “[translate] God into a deed” (Ibid.), make God a verb instead of a noun, an action instead of an object.
The kingdom will be restored only in and through our relationships with one another.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” (Matthew 25:37-39)
You know Jesus’ answer to those questions, right? He says that whatever we have and have not done for them we have and have not done for him. I wonder how far and to whom Jesus extends that kind of thinking? How far are willing to extend to it?
The kingdom isn’t a thing. It’s an action and a way of being in the concrete circumstances of life. It comes locally, temporarily, intermittently, episodically in particular circumstances and relationships. And it depends on us.
The kingdom comes, is actually here, is really real, whenever we love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who abuse us, turn the other cheek to those who strike us, welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive our offender, give to the beggar. (John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory, 138)
“The kingdom is not a reward for these works; the kingdom is these works.” (John Caputo, Hoping Against Hope, Confessions of a Postmodern Pilgrim, 61-62) Wherever these works are happening, there is the kingdom. And wherever they are not happening the kingdom has been overthrown. The kingdom is about what we do and how we live. It’s is what life looks like when we respond to what God is calling for. (Ibid., 119) It comes every time you and I give existence to the insistence, the asking, of God.
I wonder what that means for your life today? For your relationships? For Uvalde?
If you want to know what God is asking for and insisting in your life and in Uvalde look for the people and places in pain. Seek the brokenhearted, the fearful, the marginalized. Listen to the stories of violence and injustice. Ask, “Where does it hurt? What do you need?”
So tell me, what are you seeing and what are you hearing these days? What’s the insistence before you today? You don’t have to do everything but you can do something. We all can.
Is this the time when you and I will restore the kingdom or will we just stand around looking up toward heaven?
Image Credit: By Meister des Rottweiler Hochaltars, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons