Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Jesus answered, “My kingship is not of this world; if My kingship were of this world, My servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but My kingship is not from the world.” John 18:36 (From the Fourth Gospel on Holy Thursday Evening) Fourth Sunday of Lent—St. John of the Ladder
Good morning Prayer Team!
What comes to mind when you think of the word “kingdom”? Have you ever thought what it would be like to be a “king?” Perhaps you’ve never thought about “kings” and “kingdoms” as we see in medieval movies, with castles and armies, but it is probably safe to say that most of us have the idea of having something “under our authority.” That’s what drives us to seek material gain. We are “in love” with the idea of amassing property and power. No, we’re not going to own a feudal state, but a nice home and a nice car are good goals. And we’re not going to command an army, but being the boss over a few employees probably feels good. It’s probably safe to say that most of us give a lot of attention to material advancement—buying clothes falls under this category and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to get new clothes at least once in a while. All of these material things cost money, and so a good amount of time is spent earning the money to get the “stuff” that we want.
It’s very easy for life to go by quickly and for someone who is at the end of life to wonder, “What will become of my stuff?” On a person’s death bed, when asked what they regret the most, no one says “I wish I had put in more hours at the office,” or “I wish I had more money.” Most people would say they wish they had more time to live and that they had spent more time with their families. Look at life, for most of us who are in the rat race, our lives are “kingdom-centered”, in the sense that they revolve around our jobs and our materials things.
Jesus identified Himself as a “king.” But He redefined the terms “king” and “kingdom.” As a “king”, Jesus was not a tyrant. Rather, He was a servant. He didn’t stand up and demand respect and bark out orders. Rather, He stooped down to wash the feet of His Disciples. He didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a chariot, but on a donkey.
After Jesus was arrested, He was taken to the Jewish authorities, who handed Him over to Pontius Pilate for the purposes of condemning Him to death. The Jews were not allowed to execute criminals, only the Romans could do that. And while the Jewish authorities had no real charge against Jesus, they were both jealous and insecure that He was going to wrestle their power away from them. So, they delivered Him to Pontius Pilate on the accusation that He had made Himself “King of the Jews” and therefore posed a threat to both the Jews and the Romans, whose king was Caesar.
So, when Pilate questioned Jesus as to whether He was a king, Jesus answered Him that His Kingship was not of this world. His “kingdom” would not be established through conquest and power, but through service to others and love. Jesus calls on us to radically change our thinking. His “Kingship” is centered on being a servant. And His “Kingdom” is centered on benevolence.
So, in our desire to be “kings,” (owners and controllers of things), we have to shift our thinking to being “servants.” The greater the authority one has, the greater of a servant He should be. Jesus said that “Many that are first will be last, and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30)
Going back to the Fall of mankind, the initial sin of Adam and Eve was the sin of ingratitude. God had given the human beings Paradise, the entire world, to be at their disposal. He told them “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) And Adam and Eve, instead of saying “thank you” for the vast “kingdom” that God had given them, said, in essence “we want the tree also.” And they eat of it and fell.
The Kingdom of God, to which we are working to go in our spiritual life, is going to be as it was before the Fall, when everything was in abundance and the human beings lived in a state of “perfection.” The roadmap to the Kingdom of God is based on people “divesting” themselves of things, not on material acquisition. It is based on “giving” of love, attention and help to others, rather than just on getting. This is not a call to “communism” but rather a call to “stewardship” and “faith.” “Stewardship” is using what you have to take care of someone or something, in this case, using some of your time and talent and resources to care for others, either through the church or through other means. It means be charitable to both neighbor and stranger. The Bible fixes the percentage at ten percent of these things. “Faith” is the idea of living “for God,” “with God,” and “in God.” So that one’s work and indeed one’s life is all about HIM!
So, while my “job” might bring material wealth to me, it should also bring glory to Him. And while my material wealth may accumulate to bring me temporary joy, I should share a percentage of it with others through the church, or in other ways, so that my material things honor Him as well. In these ways, our lives become centered more on His Kingdom than on our kingdoms. Because no matter how big our earthly kingdom might be, the goal of life is to end up in the Kingdom of God and not be shut out of it.
Because of a tree, Adam was estranged from Paradise; because of the wood of the Cross, the thief abode in Paradise; for the former, in tasting, disobeyed the commandment of the Creator; but the latter, who was crucified with You, confessed, admitting to You, the concealed God. O Savior, remember also us, in Your Kingdom. (From the Beatitudes of the Service of the 12 Gospels on Holy Thursday Evening, Trans. by Fr. George Papadeas)
Focus on His Kingdom today, in addition to yours!
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