A few years ago, there was a short-lived TV series called Eli Stone. It was a typical law firm show, where lawyers fought with each other at their firm but mostly win their cases in court. What made this show different, was that the title character had a brain aneurysm which caused him to experience visions that seemed real to him – everything from members of the law firm putting on full-blown Broadway numbers in the boardroom to being chased by planes in the street. Eli came to believe that even though the visions weren’t literally happening, they served a guide for what cases to take and how to win them. Everyone else came to believe that Eli was crazy – except for the few who believed in him. And sadly for fans like me, the network came to believe that the premise of visions guiding a law firm wasn’t a good television show.
One of the reasons I liked the show was that is was a great parable for a life of faith. Finding truth and guidance in particular visions is part of what we do as Christians. Now, these aren’t generally the kind of hallucinations that happened to Eli Stone, where we are working away at our desk when the room turns into a pirate ship. But our lives, as followers of Christ, are shaped by what we believe the kingdom of God does and will look like. Jesus proclaimed a vision of what the kingdom of God would be, of how God was bringing a new creation into being. He taught in the synagogue that he came to preach good news to the poor, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free by proclaiming the time of God’s favor.
In Revelation, we hear that in the new creation, too many people to count – from every nation and language – will worship at the throne of God, and hunger and thirst will be no more, and God will wipe away all tears.
Jesus walking among us, his teaching and healing, and then ultimately his crucifixion and resurrection were the actions of God to inaugurate this new creation, this vision of a world infused with God’s loving presence.
The question that has plagued Christians ever since is simply: When? When will these visions of the new creation come to be? In theology, the word for this question of when – and what – is eschatology. Es-cha-tol-o-gy. That’s the academic term for what we think of the end times- for Christians, it means how we think of the coming reign of Christ.
Now, Christians generally fall into two categories – the ones who think that we fall into two categories, and the ones who don’t. Ok, maybe not. But the question of eschatology – on when the reign of God will begin – seems to have two answers. For some, the reign of God began when Jesus overcame death on Easter morning, and we who know the love of Jesus are living in that reality. For others, the reign of God is still far into the future, and this world that we know is not part of God’s final plan.
There is of course a third way: that Jesus was the beginning of the new creation, and we see glimpses of the power of resurrection leaking through into our lives and our world. There are thin places, where the kingdom of God is clearly already here – but there are the hard realities of our world that remind us that God’s vision for the new creation is not yet here.
So what’s the point of all this theological talk of end times, and why does it matter? I think it mattered to Jesus in the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Jesus taught about God’s dream for the world: when people would be healed, the hungry are fed and all will worship God in spirit and truth. But the reign of God was always going to begin from God’s beloved people Israel, not with the other nations. Jesus could have even used Scripture – instead of the ethnic insults of the day- to justify his refusal to help her. Maybe this story would be easier to hear if he had.
But when this foreign woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, she is asking – Will you live in the vision of the new creation where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female or will you live in our current reality of division? And so Jesus had to decide: if I know of the future kingdom, when the knowledge of God will cover the earth, when peoples from every tribe and nation will worship at the throne – do I live now as if that can be true or live as if that reality only belongs to some faraway future? It took the wit and strength of a mother’s pleas for Jesus to hear the question. But her persistence – and his engagement – became an opportunity to live in the promised reign of God – to live into the vision of a new creation, even though the promised kingdom wasn’t fully in place.
As followers of Christ, we have to answer the same question: will we live in the “already” or the “not yet” of God’s vision for the world?
We can choose to claim the presence of Christ here and now – to see the ways that the healing and restoring power of God are working in the world around us, and to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world. We may have to listen closely for those grace-filled openings – if Jesus nearly missed a moment of healing, certainly we are capable of forgetting the hope that lives in us.
And this is our hope: that the love of God, the power of resurrection in Christ Jesus, will eventually work its way into the fabric of the world so that we will become and behold a new creation. There will be no hunger or thirst. There will be no reminders of caring for the poor as we heard today, because we will not have the rich and poor. Boundaries, limitations, and divisions will be healed as quickly as the demon left the girl.
Heaven knows that we do not live in that reality yet, that the kingdom of God is not yet fully here. For many people and places, the healing, life-giving power of God does not come into the world fast enough. Not every person in need of these stories gets to live them out here and now. But as people of Christ, we can bring the hope of God’s vision into the world around us.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done. Through our hope in Christ and the love of God, by claiming our place in the vision of God’s kingdom, our lives can become this prayer for the world.