“The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:15)
Let me quote Blessed Pope Paul VI, interpreting this verse:
Christ first of all proclaims a kingdom, the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is so important that, by comparison, everything else becomes ‘the rest.’ The Kingdom of God is absolute; everything else is relative. (Evangelii Nuntiandi)
Pope Paul continues: “The Lord Jesus gives the Magna Carta [the Constitution] of the Kingdom of God,” namely…The Sermon on the Mount.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek and gentle, those who mourn the sin of the world.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.
Blessed are the merciful, the peaceful, the pure of heart. Blessed are those who suffer for the sake of God’s kingdom.
“Blessed” because: In the kingdom of God, we will receive consolation, comfort, and true satisfaction. There will be mercy. We will see God.
Pope Paul continues: “Jesus gave us the heralds of the Kingdom,” namely…the Apostles and their successors in the work of evangelization. And: “Jesus described the vigilance and fidelity demanded by whoever awaits the definitive coming of the kingdom of God.”
Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or sick or in prison? To those who inherit the Kingdom, the Lord will say, “You did for Me whatever you did for…”
The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Now, I think we need to sort out the two ways in which this declaration of Christ’s can be understood. The two ways the phrase “Kingdom of God” can be understood.
Way #1: The vague, shallow way.
According to the vague, shallow interpretation of the idea of the Kingdom of God, it doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what you believe, so long as you are nice. It doesn’t matter whether your good deeds actually help anyone in particular, or if you even ever do any real good deeds at all.
The vague, shallow interpretation holds that God is very nice and very imprecise himself. God does not really concern himself with what I do, or fail to do, exactly—according to the vague, shallow interpretation. But I can count on the vague, nice God to give me good feelings whenever I show up in a church or temple for a wedding or a funeral.
Actually, according to the shallow interpretation, I get to judge the vague, nice God, applying my own criteria. If God doesn’t meet my expectations, I am allowed to pout and stew. I might forgive him, provided he conform to my ideas and plans.
The second way of interpreting the phrase “kingdom of God” involves actually reading the Holy Bible.
When we read the Bible, we discover that one particular character never appears, not even on a single page—from Genesis, all the way through to Revelation, he’s not there. Namely, the vague, nice God.
In the Sacred Scriptures, we read about God, Whose kingdom flows with a kind of milk and honey so wonderful that we can’t even imagine it. All the dreams about heaven that we could concoct would never touch the sublime beauty of what God has revealed through His prophets and apostles.
We read, and we meet a God so powerful and wise that even the strongest and smartest human beings either have to tremble at the very thought of Him, or He humbles them to nothing by crushing all their delusions of grandeur into the dust.
We read, and we encounter a divine King Who insists that the most annoying and demanding of His subjects–who smell bad and often sit near us–are precisely the ones that we have to find a way to love as much as we love ourselves.
We read the Bible, and we see that God relentlessly concerns Himself with a lot of things that the vague, shallow interpretation regards as petty details. Like how to do holy ceremonies properly. And how to avoid lying, and lusting, and gluttony, and all kinds of hidden sins. He concerns Himself painstakingly with how we live in a marriage and as a family. And with what we ought to do when someone asks for help.
In other words, the actual King of the kingdom of heaven is demanding as hell. You have to belong to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And not only do you have to belong, you have to do all the required things. And you have to do them with a loving and cheerful heart.
You also have to give up anything and everything that stands in the way of reaching the Kingdom of God—a kingdom that exists on its own, no matter what I think or don’t think about it. There’s a real King ruling over it, Who was born of Mary in Bethlehem and was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
The vague, shallow interpretation of the Kingdom of God insists on being especially vague and shallow when it comes to two things in particular. We will have to cover those next week.