I’m taking a stand on this one (Luke 17:21) – updated

“The Kingdom of God is within you.”

Commentators on these words of Jesus in Luke 17:21 are almost unanimous in expressing their disbelief that Jesus intended the literal meaning of his words “within you” to apply to the small group of Pharisees to whom he was speaking.  But since when did a commentator’s incredulity alone constitute adequate exegesis?  It sounds to me more like they are refusing to hear what Jesus is saying.  And as I reported in an earlier post, variant translations for this particular Greek phrase which render the English as ‘in your midst’ or ‘among you’ are not found in any other Biblical text whatsoever.  By contrast, “within you, in your hearts” has the authority of Ps. 38:4, 108:22, 103:1, Isa 16:11, Dan 10:16, Ecclus. 19:23.

Yesterday I commented on a post by a Christian blogger who was trying to mount an argument against the literal meaning of this text from Luke.  I’ve seen this kind of attack before on Luke 17:21, and it happens to be a matter of prime importance to me, so I’m taking a stand for its literal meaning.

But what makes it so hard for my fellow Christians to accept a teaching of Jesus which extends the blessings of God’s presence even to his enemies?  Are they really listening to Jesus?  And anyway, which of Jesus’ so-called friends has completely escaped temptation and rebellion?  If we find that the spirit of God dwells with patient love in all such men and women, even in the face of their misunderstanding and antipathy, it is not impossible, I think, to have faith that this patient spirit also waits within all mankind.

Time and eternity

“The human capacity to enter into the eternal, in a limited degree, is what characterizes our religious life and our participation in spiritual reality.  It is the sin qua non of theological insight and conceptualization. …However, the very necessity for interpenetration of divine and human minds places an unavoidable limitation upon revelation in the classical sense, precisely because of the limited capacity of the human mind to transcend its temporal conditions.”  – G. D. Yarnold, The Moving Image, 1966, pp. 201-2

Time and eternity have been my chief objects of philosophical concern recently, a spin-off from recent reading of Kant and Plato on the subjects.  On that same line of thinking I watched the Stephen Hawking documentary film “History of Time” last night

But does anybody else think it seemed a very arbitrary thing when Dr. Hawking rejected his early view that time must have a beginning?  Too easily, I think, he retreats from the necessity of postulating an origin of time in what is clearly an expanding universe.  What will a theoretical physicist not do to prevent the embarrassing impotency of mathematics at singularity?  Plato might have told him that mathematical truth is not nullified simply because it cannot generate a universe out of a theoretical singularity.  It is eternally true that 2+2=4, for example, even if the poor scientist can only use this truth to unpack motions prevailing after the beginning of time.  And there are still greater truths, which also show their independence of time.

“The prophetic figures of the OT provide the most notable instances of the human mind being drawn into an understanding of things divine. … What is vitally important from the point of view of revelation, however, is the bridging of the gap between the eternal and the temporal by the entering into history of One who, while being fully human, comes to the rescue of the limited human capacity for transcending temporality.”  – Yarnold, p.202-3

“At three crises of the national and religious life three voices came to guide it.  Before Samaria fell in 722BC, Hosea came to gather up the life of the past and preserve what was of eternal remembrance in the thought and deed of Israel.  Before the collapse of Judah in 586BC, Jeremiah handed on to a people now without a state the truths by which their souls might still live.  Finally, before the Temple disappeared in 70AD, a greater than both conserved for the world through his living church the enduring things which could not die.”  – Adam C. Welch, “Jeremiah,” The Abingdon Bible Commentary, 1928, p.677.

Of high and difficult commands

The religious commands and injunctions found scattered throughout the sacred books of the Jews are generally admitted to be of very uneven spiritual value.  Many represent interpretations of divine expectations which are ‘all too human’ – more revealing as examples of anthropology than of theology. From a theologian’s perspective, however, the many primitive and unspiritual ideas found in those ancient books are far outweighed (though not outnumbered), by a few inspired concepts which I think exhibit a spiritual acumen as high as any known in all the literature of religions.

What is more, I notice that some of the most high (and most demanding) OT exhortations were ascribed also to Jesus.  For example, Mat 6:48:

“You therefore shall be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect”

appears to be the Gospel upgrade for the earlier divine command which in the Torah introduces the ancient ‘Holiness Code’ in Lev 19:2:

“You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy”

The divine Son puts an interesting new spin on the old, but I don’t see where his innovation has lessened its tough (seemingly impossible) requirement.  What he has done is to render the statement harder to misinterpret as a kind of guarantee of holiness in a person or group simply by dint of their covenantal association with God – an error which might lead one to brand all outside the covenant as unholy, as goyim.

As for the implied difficulty of following this divine injunction, I like the midrash offered by C.S. Lewis, which has Jesus saying:

‘Make no mistake; … if you let me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect-until my Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.’   – Mere Christianity, from Chap 31 ‘Counting the Cost’