Mary’s Praise and Social Concerns

Living in God’s kingdom here and now has both spiritual and earthly dimensions. The latter deals especially with social justice. Both of these are found in Mary’s response when Elizabeth told her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”

Mary replied, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….The mighty one has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”

Of God she said, “His mercy is for those who fear him.” For those who don’t:

  • He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
  • He has brought down the powerful from their thrones.
  • He has lifted up the lowly.
  • He has filled the hungry with good things.
  • He has sent the rich away empty.

Mary concludes that God “has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy.” Luke 2:39-55.

Howard W. Hallman is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

God’s Kingdom & Secular Government

Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This raises the question of what is the nature of God’s kingdom on earth.

In thinking about this in the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, we can be certain that God’s kingdom isn’t a political domain ruled by an earthly monarch. Jesus made this clear in the wilderness when he rejected the devil’s offer to rule over all the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:8-10). For his disciples Jesus contrasted Gentile rulers who exercise authority by ordering people around with a different approach: “Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant” (Mark 10:42-45).

Rather God’s kingdom on earth is a way of life based upon experiencing God’s presence in daily living, in loving both neighbor and enemy, by practicing forgiveness, offering mercy, seeking justice, and acting as peacemaker.

That is not to say that role of government is inconsequential. In the founding documents of American democracy the Declaration of Independence states that governments are instituted to secure the rights of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution specifies the following purposes: “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”

Accordingly we can use our governments as instruments for achieving features of God’s kingdom on earth including freedom of association, equal rights before the law, social and economic justice for all. We can remember that in Jesus’ allegory of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), it is nations who gathered before the judgment throne. They are judged by how well they have fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers (read immigrants), clothed the naked, taken care of the sick, and visited prisoners. Given emphasis upon mercy throughout the Bible, we can add restorative justice as another concern. We can also recognize the importance of freedom with a biblical heritage going back to Moses appearance before Pharaoh demanding, “Let my people go!”

Thus, although God’s kingdom on earth isn’t a political domain as such, our governments have relevance in advancing the cause of God’s kingdom.

 Howard W. Hallman lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

Showing Mercy to Adversaries

An important expression of mercy is showing forbearance to our adversaries. This follows Jesus’ teaching, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). As we want God to have mercy on us for our transgressions, we should also show mercy to persons who have offended us.

When we offer mercy in this manner, we recognize the wisdom of Portia’s speech in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene I):

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes:

It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

We can add Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Health Benefits of Forgiveness

Forgiveness restores right relationships between individuals. In addition, forgiveness has health benefits for the person who forgives. This is shown in a book on The Power of Forgiveness by Kenneth Briggs (Fortress Press, 2008). He notes, “The most solid result is that forgiving yourself and others can be a bonanza for your heart and your blood vessels. Blood pressure goes down, therefore easing the workload on the cardio-pumper” ( p. 42).

Kathleen Lawler-Row, a professor of psychology, confirmed this finding in her studies. She reports: “The more forgiving people have lower blood pressure.  They are less aroused during stress. They recover from thinking about this [betrayal] experience more quickly.  When we look at survey samples and a variety of measures of health and fatigue, sleep, physical symptoms, number of medications, in every case the more forgiving the person the better the health” (Briggs, p. 46).

When we forgive, we are healed at the same time that we are a healer. Such is the benefit of living in God’s kingdom in this manner.

Many Expressions of Prayer

Prayers can have a variety of expressions. Many appear in the few short verses of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught (Matthew 6:9-13 RSV with some editing).

  • Personal relationship with God (“Our Father who art in heaven”)
  • Praise (“Hallowed be thy name”)
  • Concern for society (“Thy kingdom come”)
  • Obedience (“Thy will be done”)
  • Petition (“Give us this day our daily bread’)
  • Confession and request for forgiveness (for “our trespasses”)
  • Forgiveness of others (“who trespass against us”)
  • Guidance (“lead us not into temptation”)
  • Protection (“deliver us from evil”)
  • Acknowledgement of God’s supremacy (“the power and the glory forever”)

Elsewhere in the Bible we find other expressions (NRSV):

  • Lamentation (“Out of the depths I cry to thee, O Lord!” Psalm 130.1)
  • Thanksgiving (“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” Psalm 107.1)
  • Commitment (“Here am I, send me.” Isaiah 6:8)

Howard W. Hallman lives in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He is author of Living in God’s Kingdom: Here and Now, available from Amazon.

Jesus Taught Love for Enemies

In the Sermon the Mount Jesus made a revolutionary pronouncement. Rather than hate your enemy, “love your enemies and pray for those who harass you” (Matthew 5:44).

Love for enemy for Jesus is grounded in the belief that all of us, friend and foe alike, are children of God who “makes his sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and unrighteous” (Mathew 5:45b). In Luke’s version Jesus says, “Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate” (Luke 6:36). Therefore, we too should be kind and compassionate to everyone, even those we consider to be our enemies

Jesus further instructs, “Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Matthew 5:43-48). This is the Common English Bible translation. Other versions translate this verse as “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Barnes’ Notes on the Bible say that the Greek word used commonly means “finished, complete, pure, holy”. We recognize that God loves us. God loves others, too. When we also love others, including our enemies, we complete the circle. A kind of perfection. 

Love Requires Patience

In 1 Corintians 13:4 Paul wrote, “Love is patient.” Indeed patience is required in many circumstances.

Patience is a lifelong need in the romantic relationship of couples during dating, courtship, marriage or domestic partnership, staying together for decades, and especially in old age when one or both begin to lose mental and physical capability.

Patience is essential in rearing children. Parents offer love to their children at birth, and children respond with their own expressions of love. As children’s individualism develops, parents want to give them leeway but also set boundaries.  Early on a contest of wills develops. Offering discipline in a loving manner is required. The challenge grows as children enter adolescence and begin to strike out on their own.

Patience is necessary in many other situations: teachers with students, employers with employees and vice versa, within peer groups trying to get along, diners with waiters, sales clerks with customers, drivers with one another on a busy highway, phone callers on hold. The list goes on and on.  Even when annoyed you can show your patience as a way to love your neighbor.

Finally patience lays the groundwork for reconciliation and forgiveness.  As a proverb states: “Hotheads stir up conflict, but patient people calm down strife” (Proverbs 15:18).