Article by The Revd Chris Ford
When talking with his disciples about the nature of the Kingdom of God, Jesus tells them that the Kingdom will not come in an outwardly visible way. It will not be possible to point to it and say "Here is it" or "There it is!", because the Kingdom of God is within us (Lk 17:20f). Jesus tells us that the Kingdom consists in an inner relationship with God. The Kingdom begins within us and grows within us and moves out from us into the world. If we don't know the relationship with God as something alive within, we shall not be able to discern God in others or in the life of the world. So the responsibility for forming and nurturing the relationship with God lies firmly with us. God in his abundant goodness gives us God's self, but we have to find God and wake God up.
Thanks to C H Dodd, in his ground-breaking book "The Parables of the Kingdom", and many other authors since, it is now widely accepted that all of Jesus' teachings in the parables are about the Kingdom of God. In these wonderful stories Jesus gives us insights into how our relationship with God can be hindered or developed. Yet, so we are told, the Kingdom is within us. So, one way of looking at the parables is that they give us a description of inner processes; they describe inner figures that portray various aspects of ourselves, aspects that either hinder or help our relationship with God. The stories put us in touch with processes inside ourselves that either detract from or enhance that life-giving relationship with God which is our calling and our life's work. The following is an example of how this kind of interpretation might work. It is an exploration into what Jesus might be telling us through the story of inner processes and consequently, what is like to live in the Kingdom. The parables ask questions of us that require an ability to look honestly at ourselves and our relationship with the Transcendent Other. They are not at all easy reading and pose some searching questions, if we are faithful to the overall process given us by Jesus. Yet, Jesus told these stories precisely because he wanted such prayerful, inner reflection to take place, for personal benefit, but also for the sharing of the Kingdom in the world. The Kingdom does begin with us, but it must then move out from us into the world in loving service and total commitment to the purposes of God. Leo Tolstoy, in his treatise "The Kingdom of God is Within You" writes: "There is one thing, and only one thing, in which it is granted to you to be free in life, all else being beyond your power: that is to recognise and profess the truth ... The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity by contributing to the establishment of the Kingdom of God, which can only be done by the recognition and profession of the truth by every man (person)."1 It is hoped that the following may provide helpful reflection in that life-long process and adventure.
A man was walking down the long, dusty, wilderness road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a risky undertaking at any time. The Wadi Kelt has been a notorious route since well before the time of Jesus and is still so today. The traveller is set upon by robbers and left as dead by the side of the track. A passing priest and then a passing Levite want nothing to do with this sorry sight. A Samaritan Jew, however, a victim himself of religious hatred and physical and emotional violence, comes to the poor man's aid. He binds his wounds, puts him on a donkey and takes him to a place of safety, where he can in peace and security find wholeness once more.
This is a description of what it is like to live out the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom which is within us. The characters and situations within this story then need to be interpreted as inner figures, as inner symbols of eternal truths, truths that combine to form a process for relating (or not relating) to God. The first figure in the story is the man himself, making his journey. We are all on a journey through life and it is an incredible adventure. Joy and love are at every turn, so also are risk and danger. As in the story, there are times when we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness and it can be extremely distressing and disorientating. When "robbers" attack we are left deeply wounded and extremely vulnerable and since "robbers" may well have attacked many times, we travel with the memory of many wounds and the pain of some still smarting. There is also for all of us an inner part of ourselves that lies bleeding and moaning by the wayside, unattended, unwanted and close to death. It is usually that part of ourselves where we are most vulnerable and where we can be hurt most easily. One thing is for sure; it hurts and it makes us cry.
Who does this to us? In the story, they are robbers. We do not have to look too far to find the robbers in today's world. They are those who abuse, those who deface and destroy, those who kill and brutalise. Sadly our papers are full of such people and such stories every day. For us they are more likely to be those who have hurt us deeply in the past, or those who are making life unbearable today. Far harder to recognise is the robber inside of ourselves; that part of us that can hurt another, that can deface and destroy; that part of our make-up that can wilfully and at times gleefully bring about another's downfall, that can wound and enjoy doing it. It is there and in unguarded moments it is revealed; sometimes in not such unguarded moments. There is also that part of us that does damage to ourselves and does it repeatedly. The robber is part of our world and part of ourselves and must be recognised and dealt with. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The only devils in this world are those running around in our own hearts and it is there that all our battles must be fought."2
Robbers, in whatever form they attack us, wound. Woundedness is real, in ourselves and in others. What happens to it? The inner Priest and Levite walk by on the other side. They have far more important things to be doing than getting their hands covered in blood. Indeed they do! If they soil their hands with blood they will not be able to perform the necessary religious rites at the Temple. They will not be able to worship; they will not be able to have fellowship with their God or their families, until they have gone through ritual cleansing. In this moment of need, they decide that the fulfilment of public religious and family demands is more important than tending to woundedness. We do that to ourselves all the time. We ignore woundedness in ourselves and in others by involving ourselves in a massive schedule of ‘oughts, musts and shoulds'. Any and all activity, all of course extremely important, takes us away from the central need, that of attending to our own inner woundedness. Ironically, we sometimes use our religious and spiritual practices as a means of avoiding real contact with inner woundedness.
Mercifully, this is not the end of the story. A third character comes along, a Samaritan Jew, one acquainted with woundedness and grief, who knows what to do. This one knows how to bind woundedness, how to tend and nurse hurt, how to support and how to help up. He knows where there is a place of safety where healing can take place. He also gives and goes on giving, as much as is needed, until healing is complete. Money is given in the story; in symbolic terms, there is an exchange of value, because the wounded one is of immeasurable value to the one who enables healing. The inner Samaritan is a shunned or neglected part of ourselves, a part that holds immense value for us, but is as yet unacknowledged. The Samaritan God is a very real part of us and waits to bring healing. This inner reality knows the value of the wounded one; this reality tends and nurses; this reality lifts up and supports; this reality takes to a place of safety and goes on providing for that space until healing is complete. Woundedness is healed and new life is given, if the "Samaritan" is allowed to do his work and his gentle whisper heard and heeded.
The whole of this magnificent story is a description of the Kingdom. This is what it is like to live in relationship with God, in ourselves and in our world. It is one of the most complete and all-inclusive descriptions that Jesus gives us of living life honestly with God. A similar, but much briefer, description is given on the entrance to the Temple of Aesclepius, the Greek god of healing, in Delphi: "God sends the wound; God is in the wound; God is wounded; God heals the wound." God is in the robber too and that is always hard for us to face, whatever form the robber takes for us. However, God does not leave us wounded. He asks only that we learn to listen and to trust. For the glorious truth is that God heals the wound too; it becomes no more and will never trouble us again, although we shall always carry the memory of it. The Samaritan God is within all of us and available for us all the time. We are infinitely valuable to God and God will provide all the resources we need for our healing and abundant living.
1 Tolstoi, Leo, The Kingdom of God is Within You, Copyright © Biblio Bazaar, LLC, pp307, 308.
2 Ghandi, Mahatma, Ghandi (film: Director Richard Attenborough, Written John Briley, Columbia Pictures, 1982).
"The Kingdom of God is Within You" by Chris Ford is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.