The Gospels are filled with those mysteriously beautiful parables of Christ, most of which illuminate the nature of the Kingdom of God. Without ever fully defining the Kingdom, Jesus clearly demonstrates in his preaching, miracles and forgiveness of sins that his mission is to establish the Reign of God in human history and to invite everyone to be a part of it forever.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, by quoting “Lumen Gentium,” Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, that “‘to carry out the will of the Father Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth.’ Now the Father’s will is to ‘raise up men to share in his own divine life.’ He does this by gathering men around his Son Jesus Christ. This gathering is the church, ‘on earth the seed and beginning of that Kingdom.’”
Like a luminous jewel, the Kingdom of God has a variety of facets that Jesus points to in his parables. In the Pearl of Great Price and the Treasure Buried in the Field (Mt 13:44-45), we see that once people have experienced the love of God, they will gladly give all they have to that divine relationship.
The Mustard Seed (Mk 4:30-31) reminds us that the Kingdom of God is often hidden and small, yet it grows to become a sheltering force in the world.
The Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) reveals that God’s sense of justice and charity radically supersedes, and often inverts, our limited concepts.
The Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) shows that the love and mercy of the Kingdom break down all human barriers and divisions, that kindness and goodness are found often in the most unexpected people and places.
The fate of the Rich Fool (Lk 12:13-21) warns us not to become complacent in our reliance on the security of material wealth; there is urgency about the Kingdom of God and a shortness to this life.
Lazarus and the Rich Man (Lk 16:19-31) act out the stark contrast between humble suffering and blind indifference. People of the Kingdom recognize the dignity and serve the needs of those around them, especially the most poor and vulnerable.
The Weeds among the Wheat (Mt 13:24-29) points to the mysterious coexistence of good and evil in the world but also to the gravity of the final judgment.
So what exactly is the Kingdom of God? Jesus never fully defines it in the Scriptures, so perhaps it is presumptuous to attempt to do so, but can we not, in full humility, say something about the mystery of God’s reign as we have experienced it?
The Kingdom is the fullness of God’s life, presence, mercy, salvation and love, fully realized in the glory of heaven but already present here on earth.
Through his birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection, Jesus Christ has unleashed the Kingdom into every nook and cranny of human history and the human heart. We are invited to enter the Kingdom by surrendering ourselves to the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus, through whom we come into loving relationship with the Father.
The church is the servant and herald of the Kingdom of God but cannot be fully equated with it; the Holy Spirit is at work beyond the boundaries of the church but always in a deep level of union with her.
How have you experienced the Kingdom of God? Perhaps this mysterious reign overtakes us when someone unexpectedly forgives us or when we recognize the presence of God in a homeless stranger.
Maybe it happens when we surrender the self-righteousness of the older brother and realize we have more in common with the prodigal son or that we are in fact one of the workers hired at the end of the day who has received an abundance of grace beyond anything deserved. Doesn’t the Kingdom grab us every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist and the Holy Spirit lifts all of us beyond the divisions, violence and hatred that plague our world?
Somehow, the Kingdom of God is simultaneously within us at the very core of our being and yet is so beyond us that all we can perceive are hints and glimpses of its convicting power.
This Lent, I want to meditate on the Gospel parables for they reveal the beauty of Jesus’ heart and the presence of the Kingdom of God, a mystery that confounds, subverts, convicts, challenges, consoles and, ultimately, saves us.