The Coming of the Kingdom and Samaria

Luke 17: 20-21.

And so, when [after this] the Pharisees [cross-examine him and] demanded an answer to the question as to when the Kingdom of God was to arrive, he replied with these words:
“The Kingdom of God [you should know] does not come in order to be put under observation. You just can’t say, ‘Lo and behold, here it is!’ or ‘Look over there – the Kingdom of God.’ Behold, the Kingdom of God is right here [in front of your eyes] in your midst [already].”

In reading Luke’s account, we have been testing the hypothesis that the author wrote with the intention of describing for Theophilus how the opposition to Jesus’ ministry manifested itself. He then tells how Jesus dealt with it, how he refused to let it distract him from his work.

In his second book, Luke would tell Theophilus about the ongoing reconciliation between Jew and Samaritan in the context of the proclamation of the Good News around the Mediterranean world of the time. He put it in these terms:

And that is how the congregation [of believers in Jesus] throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria found peace [among themselves] and [as a result] thrived.

That was in the immediate aftermath of the conversion of Saul the Pharisee to Paul the follower of Christ Jesus. The peace and unity of the young church in Galilee, Judea and Samaria was proof positive that something mighty was taking root in their midst. Here, in his Gospel account, Luke reports on how the seeds of this reconciliation, that challenged centuries of conflict between Jews and Samaritans, was initially sown in Jesus’ ministry.

And so, having recounted an occasion when Jesus became faced with another Samaritan acknowledgment of his ministry – the thankful worship of the healed man– Luke moves on to immediately tells us of the interrogation of the Pharisees.

What are you teaching, Jesus of Nazareth, concerning the coming of God’s Kingdom? When will that be?

This hard-edged inquiry follows an earlier persistent requests for a sign (11:29). So, how was Jesus to answer this question?

Would it be:

Well, gentlemen, set your clocks, and let’s begin the count down! 100, 99, 98,…

Or,

Take out your diary and turn to the month of … !

No. Instead, Jesus replied in a way that encourages his questioners to look again at their question. Quite apart from the fact that they were ignoring the evidence of the thankful praise of the healed leper, a complete outsider of Israel, Jesus proceeded to challenge the Pharisees’ presumption that the coming of the Kingdom of God could be a state of affairs within their jurisdiction, an event the validity of which is within their competence to adjudicate.

No, gentlemen, it is not like that at all. The Kingdom of God does not come from outside the city walls so that you, having pushed yourselves forward to usurp the role of watchmen on the city gate are the ones who can discern its coming from afar. Forget that presumption. It arises from within your life, if your life is a life of faith and trust in the Lord Almighty!

As we have been reading, slowly and deliberately, through Luke’s two works, we become impressed by Luke’s careful deliberation construction of his narrative. This means that our reading at time clashes with what seems to be implied by the inserted section headings as well as the occasional footnotes of our English-language Bibles where these assume conventional theological understandings. For instance, as we have noted Luke’s distinction between “cleansing” and “healing” in the account of the healing of the lepers indicates that Jesus was by no means working outide the Levitical rules. Luke also seems to have a knack for placing events one after the other in a way that elucidates the meaning of the latter event because of its evident connection to the former. Here, and particularly for this Samaritan, Jesus acted in accordance with the “prophet who is like Moses” [Deuteronomy 18:15-22].

Now we have come to a brief encounter with Pharisees. But Jesus’ reply – that makes demands upon us as readers if we are to grasp the sense of what he is saying – reminds these questioners, and us, that the Kingdom of God is not firstly on its way so that those who identify with Israel’s Lord can assert their superior role among the flock of the Good Shepherd. Rather, he tells them that the coming of the Kingdom is for those with ears to hear and eyes to see what is evident right there in front of us.

If that is the gist of Jesus’ reply, what then can we say is the purpose of Luke’s effort to place this piece of eschatological advice at this point in his narrative?

The answer to that question, perhaps, can be taken up when we consider what Luke tells us next.

And [in relation to this exchange] this is what Jesus [then] said to his disciples: “The days will indeed come when you will be longing for the day of the Son of Man to arrive and it will not come on your horizon… (17:22).
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