Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you." Then he said to the disciples, "The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, 'Look there!' or 'Look here!' Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.
“The kingdom of God is among you,” or is it “The kingdom of God is within you”? Some translations still say ‘within’. The Greek word ‘entos’ means both ‘within’ and ‘among’. Today we may have a preference for ‘within’: it suggests interiority and privacy – in fact (if we were to take it far enough) a private God. But it is not possible to privatise God. Yet what is religion if it doesn’t have any interiority? It is no more than a theory about the world: a theory of everything (everything except the person holding the theory). So is it ‘within’ or ‘among’?
Jesus accused the Pharisees of having no interiority at all: "You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). So it is unlikely that he was telling them here that the kingdom of God was within them. Do we lose all sense of interiority if we translate ‘entos’ as ‘among’? No. ‘Among’ means ‘in your midst’. He was saying to the Pharisees: the kingdom of God is here in front of you, it is in me; do you not see it? These words are for us too. The difference is that we have St Paul’s teaching about the body of Christ: we are members of Christ’s body. So for us, ‘among you’ means ‘in the whole body of Christ’, of which he is the head and we the members. ‘Among you’ means ‘within you’, but the ‘you’ is the greater ‘you’, the vast ‘you’, not your ego.
When we experience a leaning towards interiority today we have to pay careful attention in case we are only cultivating and flattering our egos. We like privacy because we are invaded on so many sides, but there is no such thing as a private religion. One of the possible etymologies of the word ‘religion’ connects it with the Latin religare, ‘to bind’. Religion binds or connects us to everything. Just as there is no such thing as a truly private language, there is no private religion. If there were, what a sad old thing it would be!
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