By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
Perhaps the most compelling things about Christ are the aspects of his character that run most contrary to expectations.
In so many ways, Jesus answered the prayers of the Jews, but not in the way they asked for them.
“The Jews were looking for a warrior king, like David, to restore the kingdom of Jerusalem to its former glory and topple their Roman oppressors,” said the Rev. Chris McAlilly, head pastor of Brewer United Methodist Church in Shannon.
Even in the Palm Sunday moment, when the crowds of Jerusalem are shouting ‘hosanna’ upon Jesus’ entry into the city, they are expecting a revolution.
“But Jesus didn’t come riding in in a chariot like Alexander the Great. He came on a donkey,” McAlilly said. “He didn’t come to conquer. He came to be sacrificed.”
The kingdom of God proves equally complex, for the Jews looked forward to a spatial kingdom. Instead, Jesus brought forth a temporal kingdom, borderless not on earth, but in time, an already-but-not-yet kingdom.
The Already-But-Not-Yet Kingdom
The already-but-not-yet kingdom paints the kingdom of God as two periods of time. The first period, called the “present evil age,” according to the Rev. Colby Cuevas of Tupelo’s First United Methodist Church, begins with man’s fall and will last until the second period, when God’s reign is fully completed on earth.
“The already-but-not-yet is the idea that these two time periods are overlapping,” Cuevas said. “God’s kingdom has already come through Christ, but is not yet fulfilled.”
Cuevas said Jesus, in a way, came as a second Adam to reconcile the corrupt world of man with God’s unblemished kingdom. Jesus’ sacrifice, in part, was an atonement to man’s original sin.
In addition, Christ’s death broke down the walls cloistering the holy spirit away from common folk.
“Before Christ, there were other kingdoms involved, like Babylon with their foreign gods and Egypt, where Pharaoh was god, but with his coming, God reclaimed the world,” he said. “When the kingdom is complete, the cycle of death will be reversed. The Bible said the dead will be resurrected and the lepers healed.”
For now, McAlilly said, we are living in an in-between state, an overlap of the two kingdoms.
“That comes with a lot of tension,” he said. “The end of the story puts pressure on the middle to complete itself. It could be compared to childbirth, where there is this expectancy that urges the act forward. Meanwhile, this overlapping time in which we live is at the same time miserable and wonderful.”
Wheat among the weeds
For Cuevas, the already-but-not-yet kingdom can be characterized as wheat growing among the weeds.
“The world is still messed up, but as followers of Christ we have the hope to bring light into it, to expand the kingdom as much as we can,” he said.
In other words, it helps explain how spiritual victory may be achieved while spiritual struggle in the world still continues. Although the age to come still lies in the future, it can be tasted now.
The Revs. Stanford Adams and Paul Stephens of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, said they get a daily dose of the already-but-not-yet at the church’s Saints Brew program, which provides those in need with a hot breakfast each morning during the week.
“It’s a perfect example of God’s love for everyone right next to an obvious display of how broken this world is,” Adams said.
Stephens said the kingdom is much more of a living experience than a doctrine.
“For me, it means as Christians we should keep our head on a swivel, looking back at what has happened but also working toward the kingdom that hasn’t yet been achieved,” he said.
That means immersing themselves daily in the humanity of others, an experience that can sometimes be painful.
“Even Jesus says in Luke, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me,’” Stephens said. “But Christ didn’t die for us not to suffer. He calls us to be living at all times.”
Father Albeen Vatti, associate pastor at St. James Catholic Church, said the resurrection completed the perfection of Jesus’ birth, life, and teachings. Instead of tearing down the worldly powers, Christ elevated the lowest of the low to a level of worth equal to those at the top of the hierarchy.
“Jesus identified with the lame, the suffering, the margins of society by becoming imprisoned, naked, and hungry himself,” Vatti said. “But without the resurrection, none of it would have meaning.”