17th Sunday Of Ordinary Time. Cycle A.
27TH July 2014.
Tony van Vuuren
Today we are posed with a few questions regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.
What is it — when is it –and where is it?
The phrase Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God appears over 80 times in the Gospels; yet these questions do not have simple answers.
What is it?
We do know that it is something to strive for. It is more difficult to enter it if you are rich. It is easier to get into it if you are childlike. It is good news proclaimed by Jesus and his disciples. It belonged to the poor, the humble, and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness. It has humble beginnings and grows like seed and yeast. It is not here or there but rather it is among us.
When is it and where is it?
In the Gospels we hear that it is at hand. It is among us now. It already belongs to certain groups of people. Yet we pray that it comes when we pray the Our Father. Jesus says that when it does come it will not be preceded by things that can be observed. It is something to be entered into with varying degrees of difficulty depending on your desire to do the will of God, and when Joseph of Arimathea asks Pilate for the body of Jesus, it is noted in scripture that Joseph was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God.
We are still left with some questions though; of exactly what it is, and exactly when and where it is.
Today’s Gospel gives us some more insights into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus knows what our deepest needs are. He knows that we need something at the centre of our lives to be committed to; to find security in.
The images in the parables about finding treasure in a field, or a pearl of great value, and likening them to the Kingdom of Heaven, might seem to us to have an almost fairy-tale quality about them, but the point is that for the disciple, there’s something absolute about God’s Kingdom. Unlike a lot of Jesus’ other parables, these ones are addressed to the disciples as individuals – they’re about each individual’s commitment to God’s Kingdom. We’re all called to ask ourselves: “what’s my attitude to God and God’s Reign?” Do I treat it like treasure in a field, or a valuable pearl, which is worth selling everything else for?
Sometimes, like the man in the field, we find the Kingdom of God without looking for it, and we discover with joy that it is something we must have.
Sometimes, like the merchant, the very thing we look for — the Kingdom of God — is the very thing we find, and when we discover it we give up all that was valuable to us in order to have it.
In both cases, it appears that it can be found in this life, but perhaps not in its fullness — not what is to be entered into at the end of time. We see glimpses of it now, but we, like Joseph of Arimathea, wait for the fullness of the kingdom to come.
So what is it?
I offer a simple scenario that you might agree or disagree with: Where ever the will of God is done, God’s Rule or Kingdom already exists; but, if the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of time is when we live in that perfect world that God had intended us to live in; where social hierarchies do not exist; where there is no class or ethnic discrimination; where there exists an unquestioning trust in God and his providence; where all people operate with selfless love of others; where love conquers sin; where wholeness conquers sickness; where peace conquers suffering; where life conquers death; where hope conquers despair; where redemption conquers damnation; where fellowship conquers loneliness; then our glimpses are glimpses of these things here and now.
We catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven whenever we fight against discrimination, whenever we trust completely in God, whenever our selflessness conquers selfishness, whenever our love overcomes sin and our faith overcomes suffering. When our hope conquers despair and our fellowship conquers loneliness.
There is joy in finding the Kingdom, and there is joy in helping to build it — and build it, we do — every day.
But unlike the two men in the stories we should not want to possess it only for ourselves because we come to understand that the Kingdom of God is not that kind of thing. It is not something that can be limited only to us; it is something that in order to possess we must share with others. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Gospel. To possess the Kingdom means to share our knowledge of it with others. To truly believe in Christ means leading other people to the same knowledge; for secret faith is no faith at all. We only have to look at the involvement of all the many service groups in our community reaching out to fellow parishioners and even more so to those in need further afield to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven at work. An example is the Genesis team that went out yesterday in the cold and wet weather to hold an Umoya session with a group of mentally and physically disabled men and women. By all accounts a joyful occasion for all concerned.
When we see the various teachers here at St Michael’s giving up so much of their time in building a solid foundation of faith for our children and sharing their knowledge and enriching the spiritual lives of so many adults seeking guidance; we see a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. When our ministries of communion, liturgy and music work so hard to provide beautiful and meaningful liturgies for us we glimpse the Kingdom of Heaven; not to mention the quiet generosity of so many parishioners who support so many causes.
The Kingdom of Heaven is right here in front of us in our daily lives, if only we have ears and eyes to perceive it. Parables, like todays, provide the eyes and ears to catch God’s entrance into our lives in surprising ways: like a treasure that we happen to stumble upon and realize its life-changing value.
In the first reading today, King Solomon asks for discernment. He asks for the gift from God to be able to see things truthfully with an understanding heart and mind. For us to be able to see and realize God’s Kingdom, and where our true happiness lies, we need the same kind of discernment; so let us always pray the way Solomon did, for the wisdom to see things properly, to gain a truthful knowledge of God and God’s ways, and for the commitment that makes God’s reign the reality that everything else in our life revolves around.