Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Kingdom of God is Like...


Over the past three weeks the Gospel readings at mass have been a series of parables taken from Matthew 13 about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven).  Using the visual language of parables Jesus has described the Kingdom of God as being like:
  • A sower spreading seed on different soils
  • Wheat and weeds growing together in the same field
  • A mustard seed
  • Yeast added to dough
  • A hidden treasure
  • A pearl of great price
  • A net cast into the sea catching good and bad fish

When we consider the parables about the Kingdom of God they each provide a different perspective in a simple, yet deeply profound way. Take, for instance, the parables about the hidden treasure and pearl of great price.
 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Mt 13:44-46)
On the one hand, Jesus is trying to convey the immeasurable worth of the Kingdom of God. It is so valuable that those who find it sell all that they have to possess it. We hear the echo of Jesus’ call to the rich young ruler to sell all he owns and give it to the poor to become a disciple, or Jesus’ invitation to Peter, James and John to leave behind their nets to follow him. It implies a cost while promising a great return. For some, like the rich young man, it is too much. For others, like St. Paul, everything else appears as worthless rags in comparison.

There is another way of reading and interpreting these parables. Jesus is the man who is searching for a lost treasure and we are that treasure. It is Christ who purchases us by giving up all that he has. “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” Paul reminds the Corinthians (1 Cor 6:20). Jesus purchased us with his blood. The God of Heaven loved us so much that he became man to suffer and die a painful and humiliating death so that we could be his. We are his treasure. We are his pearl of such a great price.

That’s the beauty of the parables of Jesus. They are simple stories conveying multi-layered revelations of truth.

How awesome is the Kingdom of God? Apart from these parables, Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God/Heaven a great deal throughout the gospels. We are told that the core of his message could be summed up in the proclamation, “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent and believe the good news!” What is the “good news”? It is that the Kingdom of God has come.

So what is the Kingdom of God, and what does it mean that it is at hand/is near/come to us?

The Greek word translated as “kingdom” is βασιλεία (basileia). It refers to the sovereign reign or authority of a king. It is not a geographical area, but carries the idea of any place where a king has authority or rule.

This is what we pray for in the Our Father when we say, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” In terms of the Gospel, the Kingdom of God is the very presence of God. It is where God is, where he is acting and interacting with us.

When I was in pastoral ministry in the Vineyard church the Kingdom of God was at the very center of our theology and practice. I can’t tell you how many books and articles, conferences, seminars, speakers, and recordings I encountered and devoured about the Kingdom of God. I credit my time in the Vineyard with helping me gain a deeper appreciation for the theology of the Kingdom. It is the foundation for my faith and hope that God is still very much active in the world today through his people. It forms the basis of my understanding of prayer, particularly intercessory prayer and healing prayer.

When we pray for the Kingdom to come we are asking to experience heaven on earth. When Jesus proclaimed and advanced the presence of the Kingdom of God things happened. Miracles happened. Heaven is where God’s perfect will is perfectly done at all times. In heaven there is no sickness, no sadness, no pain, no tears, and no death (see Rev. 21:3-4). When we seek to make God’s Kingdom present on earth we are asking for heaven to be manifested in the here and now, for a portion of our eternal promise to be given to us now.  We are asking to move in to power of the Kingdom of God, to do the stuff of heaven, on earth.

But, just like the parable of the pearl of great price, there’s another aspect of experiencing God’s presence on earth today. Apart from being able to do the stuff of heaven, the presence of the Kingdom of God in the here and now also means that we are able to experience the abiding presence of God in our lives. One day, we shall see God face to face. One day we shall stand (or kneel, fall down, etc.) before the very presence of the Almighty, the Ancient of Days, the Great I AM. On that day our souls will be joined in a mystical union with the Blessed Trinity.

We can experience a piece of that glory now. When Jesus came announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God he did so with power and miracles and healing and deliverance. But, more importantly, he did it with his very presence, and before returning to his Father in heaven he made sure that his followers would be able to continue to advance the Kingdom of God through his power and his presence. He gave the Holy Spirit to his Church to empower it to spread the Good News through the many gifts of the Spirit. He left us the gift of his body and blood, soul and divinity through the sacrament of the Eucharist. Right now in every Catholic Church the Real Presence, the abiding presence of Jesus is waiting for us. 

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