November 19, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 16:26-28.
“What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see they Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
There are a couple of things of interest to me here. The Douay-Rheims Version, the English translation predating the King James Version, uses the word “soul” for “life.” To me that makes more sense. My life is transitory, but my soul is eternal unless I am denied the kingdom of heaven. What is there that is worth my losing my soul? Or what would I be willing to give in exchange for my soul? Philosophers, poets, dramatists, and other authors of literature across the millennia have all come to the same conclusion: nothing. There is nothing more important, more valuable, than my soul — that amorphous part of me that God created and desires to reach its full potential in co-creating His kingdom on earth. I can amass sums of money and material things. I can accrue and utilize power of all kinds. I can stubbornly cling to life through artificial means. They make no difference to God unless I have misappropriated these things to the detriment of others or to the estrangement of my relationships with others. Then I will be judged accordingly. Loving God with my whole heart and mind and soul and body is the only thing that matters. That’s what Jesus is saying to me again in a different way so that maybe he can get me to understand the message.
Matthew writes as if Jesus’ second coming was imminent. He was writing for his community that was severely persecuted, so he wrote with a sense of urgency. It’s not that this message doesn’t have urgency for us today, but we don’t have the same sense that Jesus is coming literally in the next few days, or weeks, or months. The passing of so many years has diluted that sense of urgency for us. Mark puts the same idea in slightly different words coming from the mouth of Jesus: “Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come in power.” That doesn’t convey the same sense of the arrival of Jesus in a cloud of glory. As Barclay notes, there were some “standing there who saw the coming of the Spirit at the day of Pentecost. There were those who were to see Gentile and Jew swept into the Kingdom; they were to see the tide of the Christian message sweep across Asia Minor and cover Europe until it reached Rom. Well within the life-time of those who heard Jesus speak, the Kingdom came with power.”
I, too, have experienced the power of the kingdom of God from time to time over the years, particularly when people of faith come together to accomplish His will. I think Mark had it right. He was writing probably about a decade before Matthew and may have been closer to those who walked with Jesus such as Peter. God uses us to effect His power and to bring into being His kingdom on earth. We don’t have to wait until Jesus comes again to experience the power of the kingdom. Neither do we have to wait until death. We are given opportunities all through our lives and we make decisions all through our lives to redeem our souls. It is how we use those opportunities and in the decisions we make to express our souls that we will be judged, that we will be repaid many times over.