Awaiting the Messiah

March 12, 2010

Awaiting the Messiah

There is an ancient story that speaks of a second coming of the Messiah. It is said that he arrived anonymously one dull Monday morning at the gates of a great city to go about his Father’s business.

There was much for him to do. While many years had passed since his last visit, the same suffering was present all around. Still there were the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Still there were the outcasts, and still there were the righteous who pities them, and the authorities who exploited them.

For a long time no one took any notice of this desert wanderer with his weather beaten face and ragged, dusty clothes– this quiet man who spent his time living among the sick and unwanted. The great city labored on like a mammoth beast, ignorant of the one who dwelt within its bowels.

The story goes that the Messiah eventually decided to reveal his identity to a chosen few who had remained faithful to his teachings. These people met together in a tiny, unknown church on the outskirts of the city to pray and to serve the poor.

As the Messiah entered the modest sanctuary one Sunday morning, his eyes fell upon the tiny group huddled in the corner, each one praying and weeping for the day of the Lord. As they prayed those who had gathered in the church slowly began to feel the gaze of Christ penetrate their souls. Silence began to descend within the circle as they realized who had entered their sacred home. For a time no one dared to speak. Then the leader of the group gathered her courage, approached Christ, fell at his feet, and cried, “We have waiting so long for your return. For so many years we have waited patiently for you to come. Today, as with every other day, we prayed passionately for your arrival.”

Then she stood up and looked Christ in the eyes:

“Now that you are with us we have but one question.”

Christ listened, knowing already what it would be.

“Tell us, Christ, when will you arrive?

The Messiah did not answer but simply smiled. Then he joined the others in their prayers and tears. He remains there still, to this very day, waiting, watching, and serving in that tiny, known church on the outskirts of the city.

———————————————–

So, obviously, a lot of people take it for granted that the “arrival of the Messiah” is a physical thing that will be sufficient in and of itself; there the world will be redeemed. This parable draws a distinction between the physical arrival of the Messiah, and the metaphorical arrival of the Kingdom of God.

One can imagine this story taking place in the same universe as Dostoevsky’s The Grand Inquisitor, actually. In that chapter of The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky posits a returned Christ whose presence is different than the Church is willing to accept. This Jesus is not about control or power, but about compassion. After being raged at by the Inquisitor, Jesus is set free to be among the people, presumably to continue going about his work. In The Grand Inquisitor as in this parable, the physical return of Jesus does not represent the culmination of the work of the Messiah.

For this to happen God wants human help, and that is where the Church comes is. All through the Gospels and into the Epistles of the New Testament the story is that the followers of Jesus are bringing the Kingdom of God into the world. Bit by bit followers of Jesus bring the Messiah to the world, but as long as there is suffering the Messiah has not arrived.

But let’s get a little bit more metaphorical. Paul says that followers of Jesus are the Body of Christ. By this way of thinking, Jesus has never really gone away. Instead, the church is an emblem of an already/not yet paradox. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as already being in the world during his ministry, but it had clearly not yet been fully realized. Post crucifixion the followers of Jesus became the bearers of his message, they became Jesus. In some way, we are Jesus on earth right now, and what the church does makes Christ visible in small ways. But rather than quenching our collective thirst for the arrival of Jesus, these small peeks of the divine should serve to spur the church on to greater acts of mercy in the world. The church’s collective action demonstrating the presence of Jesus should not the the drink that quenches the thirst for the Kingdom of God, it should be the salt in the drink that makes everyone thirsty for more.

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One Response to “Awaiting the Messiah”

  1. Katie said

    It made me think of the Grand Inquisitor as well…

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