The Kingdom of God

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God:
“This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God (ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, hē basileia tou Theou) is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.””

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

What is the “Kingdom of Heaven (ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ, hē basileia tou Theou)?” Where is the “Kingdom of God?” Is the “Kingdom of God” just another word or synonym in the Gospels for Heaven? “The Kingdom of God” sparks many questions and rightly so. When searching the Gospels for “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven (which appears more often in the Gospel according to Saint Matthew),” one is amazed by the numerous references. Throughout the centuries, believers have pondered the meaning and implications of “the Kingdom of God” and scholars certainly have grappled with the phrase and filled library shelves with volumes of thought-provoking commentaries.

What can and must we do with the reality of “the Kingdom” in our day? In 1975, Pope Paul VI penned the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelizing in our Day). Early in the Exhortation, the venerable Bishop of Rome states: “As an evangelizer, Christ first of all proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God; and this is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes “the rest,” which is “given in addition.” Only the kingdom therefore is absolute and it makes everything else relative. The Lord will delight in describing in many ways the happiness of belonging to this kingdom (a paradoxical happiness which is made up of things that the world rejects), the demands of the kingdom and its Magna Charta, the heralds of the kingdom, its mysteries, its children, the vigilance and fidelity demanded of whoever awaits its definitive coming (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 8).” Clearly, Pope Paul VI sees “the Kingdom of God” has the central experience of Jesus’ Public Ministry; so central that everything in His ministry is grounded in “the Kingdom.” Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraphs 541 through 556) examines the manifold depth of “the Kingdom” in Jesus’ Public Ministry. Based on these texts as well as other Catechetical Documents, the Roman Missal and the Sacred Scriptures, what follows is a working description (note: not a definition) of “the Kingdom of God” that has been helpful to undergraduates, deacon candidates, seminarians and believers.

1. ‘The “Kingdom of God” is God our Father intervening definitively in the created order through the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus.’ The Kingdom is not necessarily or strictly a specific place, although ‘place’ will be a dimension of the Kingdom as a way of living. The Kingdom is a way of living, an ongoing activity initiated by God the Father in loving concern for human beings created in His image and likeness because we have become addicted to sin in such a way that we cannot break free from its grip by our own power. We have come to enjoy sin too much. Sin’s tentacles have woven deeply into our lives that often we cannot see or think clearly. We may from time-to-time have great desires to rid ourselves of sin, desires that are marvelous but desires that do not contain within themselves the power to effect what is desired. More often than not, however, sin has dulled our senses to Divine Love. Sin has numbed us into complacency and entitlement to the point that we even approach the things of God and Church from a selfish point of view with no regard to the life of faith as engagement with the Divine Persons who call me as an individual and as a community to ongoing conversion manifesting charity and service to the Body of Christ. So powerless over sin, so addicted to the false self we have become that an intervention is needed: the “Kingdom of God.”

2. ‘This intervention is a work of power, a power that transforms and surpasses the power of Creation.’ God the Father’s work is quintessentially a work of restoration, not annihilation. Ask anyone in construction and he or she will tell you that it is often easier to raze a building and start over than to renovate or restore. Renovating an existing structure that does not have a level, plumb or square line in it makes restoration tedious and time consuming, not to mention the ‘surprises’ lurking behind old plaster and lathe. Yet ask any restorer when the project is complete and most likely she or he will tell you that in spite of its challenges and frustrations, it was and continues to be a labor of love. Such is the Kingdom. Neither Creation nor humanity is destroyed. The Creator does not raze the created order and begin anew. Even though humanity makes continuous choices reinforcing the addiction to sin, the Father – with eyes of loves – gazes upon each human person in such a way that each of us are declared “precious.” So precious are we in the sight of God the Father, that none of us are disposable, expendable or useless. Each of us has a particular vocation in the Father’s plan of salvation and our very being is so precious to the Father that the loving, transforming power of His Kingdom calls us from the addiction to our false selves to our true selves as icons of the Father’s love.

3. ‘This transforming power becomes a way of living grounded in the Person Jesus and thus not a specific ‘place’ that one can absolutely pinpoint. You cannot use Google Maps or a GPS device to find the Kingdom. The Kingdom is God the Father’s way of living. It is a way of living that is the Son, Jesus. He lives each moment of His life attentive to His Father’s word and will. Spending nights in communion with His Father, Jesus teaches with His life that Kingdom living is living joined, connected, related – whatever words you wish to use – to God the Father. As a way of living, the Kingdom is a radical embrace of the First Commandment: no one nor no thing nor anything we deem important comes before the Father or interferes with our relationship with Him. Kingdom living is life that provides the essentials to a sister or brother in need (Matthew 25:31-45) and celebrates, praise and thanks the Father for all that He is doing in life (see “Mary’s Canticle,” Luke 1:46-56). It is in this sense that one can speak of the Kingdom as ‘a place.’ Wherever one is when living as the Father commands, there is the Kingdom.

4. ‘The Kingdom, as a way of living, has been prepared by the prophets of Old.’ Many of the prophets called Israel to authentic worship, a message that is still quite valid despite present, misguided and weak arguments that attempt – erroneously – at a division between religion and spirituality. For the prophets, the spiritual relationship formed by the covenant necessarily bound one (religion) freely to observe and practice a continuous, ongoing change-of-heart. The prophets knew that the ‘energy’ required to live justly as a covenant person did not come from within a person by himself or herself. Such living depended upon the mercy of God celebrated and experienced in authentic worship. Such worship then propelled one to be an instrument of charitable service in the world acting, not on one’s own initiative and power, in the name of God.

5. ‘The Kingdom, as a way of living, is now definitely revealed and embodied in Jesus’. Here, all ambiguity concerning the Kingdom is erased. The Kingdom is essentially a Person, the Person Jesus: “only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 426).” The Incarnation makes the Kingdom a reality in the created order to effect the Father’s loving transformation of everything, most especially the human heart. Responding and living the love revealed to us in Christ Jesus is the essential work and live of the “Kingdom of God.”

Is there more to be said about the Kingdom? Certainly – but more importantly the Kingdom is not intended for study but for living — and a specific way of living that is grounded in a Person, the Person Jesus. While some of these reflections may give us some insight, such insight is always directed to worshipping God the Father and serving one another in the name of Jesus Christ with the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit.