In today’s Gospel account, Jesus continues to answer the Pharisees’ question about “when the kingdom of God would come” (Lk 17:20). Jesus reminds them about how during the time of Noah and during the time of Lot many were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying, selling, planting, building (cf. Lk 17:26-29). In effect, other than Noah and Lot, and those few listening to them, no one else had any clue about the impending calamity or wanted to know. They were so absorbed in their own pursuits and desires they did not heed the warnings of Noah and Lot.
Another focal point was on those who were attached to only material and finite things. When the final hour came, people on the rooftop or in the field were directed not to go back and get their possessions. Jesus pointed out succinctly, “Remember the wife of Lot” (Lk 17:32). Lot left Sodom with his wife, she did so physically, though she could not resist looking back, she was too tied to what she was leaving behind, and so she lost herself to her attachments.
Spending time speculating when the end will come is a pointless pursuit. What is important is to be aware of the kingdom of God in our midst, developing a relationship with God now. Matthew shared in his gospel account that Jesus stated only the Father knows the time or the hour as to when the end will come (cf. Mt 24:36). If we are only going to prepare at the final hour, we may be too late.
Asking, “When will the kingdom of God come?” also misses the point of what Jesus is teaching us. There is an intrinsic value in developing a relationship with God and one another, now, growing and maturing as a disciple, now, instead of fulfilling our own self-centered-interests. Jesus shared this truth in the first words of his public ministry, that the kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Mk 1:15). All we need to do is reach right out and grasp his extended hand of invitation and walk with him.
For the Pharisees, this meant letting go of their own power and prestige and participating instead in the living reality of God in their midst. So many of us are caught up in the day to day affairs of existing that we are barely living. We can be so distracted by false lures and attractions of security and gratification, wealth, power, pleasure, and honor, that we miss what is for our highest hope and good. Jesus is inviting us to wake up, to breathe deep, to slow down, and to be aware that he walks among us. Jesus calls us, as Lot called his wife, to keep our focus on God and the things of heaven.
Lord Jesus, help us to recognize when we are caught up in distractions and diversions, when we are choosing to put our self first, and where we are attached and bound up to empty pursuits. Guide us, such that we, in the words of Pope Francis, “understand what faith means when we open ourselves to the immense love of God that changes us inwardly and enables us to see our lives with new eyes” (Costello 2013, 12). Eyes that see the kingdom of God in our midst and the promise of which is our eternal home.
Photo: JoAnn, Jack, and Christy hiking ahead of me during our California visit in December 2015. Little did any of us know then that we would be back in 2019 for JoAnn’s walk with Jesus going ahead of us into the Kingdom of God.
Costello, Gwen. Walking With Pope Francis: Thirty Days with the Encyclical The Light of Faith. New London, CT: Twenty Third Publications, 2013.