I was driving in traffic the other day and began to notice the distinct smell of gasoline. At first I wondered if something might be wrong with my car and then I saw up ahead of me a car that was about 25 years old. That’s where the smell of gasoline was coming from. No cloud of smoke or anything like that, just the invisible fumes from an automobile built before newer emissions standards. It got me to thinking that here was evidence of some progress made by humanity. When we put our minds to it, we can actually improve some things. We have a long way to go, and maybe many things are worse, but we have improved a few things.
Jesus does a lot of teaching about the kingdom of God. When Jesus describes the kingdom, he says it is like this, and like that, and like this. No one description says it all but he keeps teaching about the kingdom. In the fourth chapter of Mark, Jesus says it is like someone scattering seeds which then grow pretty much of their own accord. There is something inherent in seeds which, when not interfered with too much, will just naturally grow into something unimaginable. Within the seed is unfathomable potential. We can spread the seeds, we can care for the seeds, but the growth will reveal something about God, not simply our abilities. The kingdom is not all up to us, but we have a part to play, a very important part.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take. It’s pretty long and involved but it begins with the vow to do no harm. The body has its own natural healing tendencies and doctors are supposed to stay out of the way and allow the body to heal itself. Creation has within it restorative powers. When we quit doing harm to creation, when we stay out of the way, that restorative power can do its work. Sometimes our greatest gift to others and the world is simply not to cause harm. We don’t have to make the world good. It was made good.
Beyond the physical realm there is a spiritual realm which, our faith teaches us, is even more real than the physical. The spiritual realm makes the physical realm real and meaningful. On its own the physical could not exist. It is created by, and sustained by, the spiritual. But because of the spiritual realm, the physical realm is good and holy. When we pay attention to its goodness, we can see a bit of the spiritual reality behind the physical.
Some world religions are based on finding an escape from the physical world and working ourselves toward the spiritual realm. Some even teach that everything physical is evil. Jesus embraces the physical, however, and teaches us that God himself creates this world for a good purpose. This world is not just some practice round for something holy later on. This world is holy in and of itself because it is made by God. The kingdom of God is in the midst of us, the gospels tell us over and over again. Here God dwells. Here God asks for our faithfulness. God cares about what happens here and now. God is working in our lives so that we may enter this world more fully, not just escape from it.
Jesus heals people physically. He doesn’t just tell them they’ll soon be with God in another realm. He makes them better here. Jesus shows us that loving each other in our actions is very important. It does matter how we treat each other while we are here. We don’t just do whatever makes us feel better and then go be with God in some sentimental paradise. We give and receive tangible expressions of love and so come to know the great love God has for us.
Our earthly pilgrimage is important. It does prepare us for what is to come next. But it has value in itself too. How are you measuring up? Have you made some progress? Or are you just sputtering around spewing fumes that others have to deal with? As you seek spiritual food what sort of physical changes might you need to make? As we identify those, God works to make us whole. We don’t have to save the world. That’s already been done. But we are called to assist the kingdom of God. In what ways are you living out the gospel? In what ways are you doing harm? Is there any tangible evidence that you are follower of Christ? It’s not too late to make some changes.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.