Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Kingdom of God: It’s Present Whenever and Wherever Jesus Rules!

(Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on July 20, 2008 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Matthew 13: 24-43.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Sixteenth Sunday 2008]

“The kingdom of God”—a biblical concept which is very important and VERY CONFUSING!

Let me illustrate the confusion with a couple of questions. Question #1: Is the kingdom of God something that is inside of us, or is it something that’s outside of us? I ask that because in Luke 17: 21 Jesus explicitly says, “The kingdom of God is within you”; but then in John 18: 36 he seems to contradict himself by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world.”

Very confusing.

Question #2: Is the kingdom of God something that we can experience NOW on this earth, or is it something we can only experience AFTER WE DIE? The answer to that one is not immediately obvious, because in Matthew 10: 7 Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (as if it is something we can experience right now!); but then, in Matthew 25, in the scene of the Last Judgment, Jesus says to those who are saved, “Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world”—as if the kingdom is something totally different from what we experience here on earth.

Very confusing.

But in spite of all the confusion, this is a biblical concept that we need to try to understand—because according to Jesus Christ the kingdom of God (whatever it is!) is extremely important!

We know this simply because Jesus preached about the kingdom all the time! He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t want us to take it seriously. Believe it or not, in just the 4 canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) the expression “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven” is used about 50 times (I know that because I made a quick count the other day!). In today’s Gospel alone, Jesus mentions it 3 times, using 3 analogies to drive home his message.

My purpose in this homily is to give you one key insight that can help you to make sense of this Gospel reading from Matthew 13 and every other passage of the New Testament where the kingdom of God is mentioned—including the ones that seem to contradict one another. The insight comes from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and it can be found in chapter 3 of his new book, Jesus of Nazareth.

I’ll paraphrase it in this way (which should be fairly easy to remember): According to the Holy Father, the kingdom of God is present wherever and whenever Jesus is enthroned as Lord.

The kingdom of God is present, in other words, wherever and whenever Jesus rules!

Think back, now, to the questions I posed at the beginning of my homily.

Question #1: Is the kingdom of God something that is inside of us, or is it something that’s outside of us?

The pope would say “It’s not an either/or situation. Both can be true. The kingdom can be inside of us and outside of us at the same time!”—which is precisely why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you,” and “My kingdom is not of this world.”

You see, whenever Jesus is ruling our inner thoughts and attitudes, the kingdom is present. Whenever we decide, by the grace of God, to forgive another person; whenever we choose to be patient or compassionate or pure; whenever we say no to sin and yes to what’s right, the kingdom of God is, in a very real sense, present within us!

But, of course, none of us is perfect. So even though the kingdom is present within us whenever we resist sin and practice virtue, it will never be fully present inside us—or outside us for that matter—as long as we’re in this world. That’s why Jesus’ second statement, “My kingdom is not of this world” is also true!

The fullness of the kingdom of God will only be experienced in heaven, simply because that’s the place where Jesus “rules” completely! In heaven, there is no sin. Jesus truly is the Lord of all that happens and the Lord of everyone who’s there.

So, is the kingdom of God something that we can experience NOW on this earth, or is it something we can only experience AFTER WE DIE?

That was the second question, and, once again the Holy Father would say to us, “It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. Because of the nature of the kingdom, both can be true. Whenever we make Jesus Lord of a particular situation in our lives and do what he wants us to do, we experience a little bit of his kingdom. Right here, right now. But, once again, the fullness of that kingdom will only become a reality for us in heaven, where there’s no sin or death, and where Jesus is Lord completely.”

All of this is implied, believe it or not, in that simple phrase “thy kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. We’re saying, “Lord, may your kingdom be present inside of me—in my thoughts and in my heart; may it be present outside of me in my words and acts of love and service. Help me, through my attitudes and choices, to experience your kingdom right now to the extent that I can; and prepare me for that glorious moment when I will experience the fullness of your kingdom in heaven.” With those 3 little words—“thy kingdom come”—we’re implying all those things. Let’s keep that in mind when we pray the Our Father later at this Mass, and whenever we pray it publicly or privately in the future.