When Emperor Tiberius governs Rome, John the Baptist appears along the Jordan River. What he says causes excitement, awakens expectations and raises hopes. The political and religious authorities were worried because they consider his message subversive. He says: The kingdom of heaven is near (Mt 3:2). After him, Jesus begins to travel through towns and villages announcing everywhere: The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is imminent (Mk 1:15). At times he also says: The kingdom of God is already in your midst (Lk 17:21). The kingdom is the center of the preaching of Jesus: in fact, in the New Testament the theme of the kingdom of God is present 122 times and as many as 90 times on his mouth.
A few years after his death, we find his disciples announcing the kingdom of God in all the provinces of the empire and in Rome itself (Acts 28:31). We would like the Baptist, Jesus and the apostles to explain to us the meaning of this expression, but none of them does. However, we notice that Jesus distances himself from those who politically and nationalistically interpret his mission. (Mk 4:8). Nevertheless, his message contains an undeniable subversive load to the existing structures in society. He is considered dangerous by those in political and religious power.
Starting as a small seed, the kingdom is destined to grow and become a tree (Mt 1:31-32). It is gifted with an irresistible force and will provoke a radical transformation of the world and of person. The kingship of Jesus is difficult to understand. He has sent Pilate’s head in a tilt (Jn 18:33-38). It’s too different from those of this world. How many times over the centuries has it been misunderstood!
In times of political upheavals wars, famine and pestilence follow suit. The situation of misery becomes intolerable. Rumors spread easily about the end of the world. To give credit to their ranting, the followers of the fundamentalist sects refer to some biblical texts. The most cited is this: “There will be difficult times in the last days. People will become selfish, lovers of money, boastful, conceited, gossips, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy. They will be unable to love and to forgive; they will be slanderers, without self-control, cruel, enemies of good, traitors, shameless, full of pride, more in love with pleasures than with God” (2 Tim 3:1-4). We encounter these uncomfortable situations in every age so those who want to make predictions about the end of the world do not have difficulty to establish the dates. And this is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses do.
For the authors of the New Testament the last times are not the ones coming in millions of years, but those in which we are living, the one initiated with Easter. It is not easy to understand the meaning of what is happening in recent times. Our eyes are veiled, clouded. Too many realities are shrouded in mystery: misfortunes, inexplicable absurdities, contradictions and signs of death. It is difficult to discern a plan of God in all this.
Using apocalyptic language and images, Jesus wants to remove the veil that prevents us from seeing the world through the eyes of God. When he seems to announce the end of the cosmos, he is not referring to the end of the world, but helping us to understand the end of the world. Apocalypse does not mean catastrophe, but revelation, unveiling. We need the words of Christ to illumine us and, among the scribbles drawn by people, to let us see the features of the masterpiece that God is painting.
Men of all ages have been confronted with the distressing enigma of death and have tried in every way to overcome or at least to exorcise it. The Egyptians resorted to mummification to preserve the body from decomposition. They have made rituals, ceremonies, complicated and detailed funeral practices to ensure the deceased a life in the world of Osiris. The people of Mesopotamia spoke of death as a descent to “the country of no return” and resigned, they had to admit: “When the gods formed humanity, they attributed death to people and held life back in their hands”. Others have thought about the possibility of a return to the life of this world through a succession of countless reincarnations.
How many things happen in our lives: we are born, we grow, we fall in love, we form a family, we educate our children, we experience joys and sorrows, we cultivate hopes and dreams. Then one day everything seems to conclude in the void of death. All end, everything disappears! The dialogue of love, affections, relationships with loved ones are broken. Do we go back into nothingness from which we drew a gesture of love of our parents? Has God truly created a person for a fate so cruel? What is left of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, only their first names?
God gave an answer to these questions: “The Christian hope – said Tertullian, the famous father of the Church of the second century – is the resurrection of the dead; all that we are, we are because we believe in the resurrection”.
To internalize the message, let us repeat:
“IN MY WAKING, O LORD, I WILL ENJOY CONTEMPLATING YOUR FACE.”