In our first reading at Sunday Mass, we hear Moses prophesy the coming of another leader who would shepherd the people like Moses himself had shepherded them, leading them to the Promised Land. In the gospel reading we hear how even an unclean spirit could declare the fulfillment of this prophecy and recognize the truth about Jesus, the Holy One of God.
If you happened to find yourself reading here a week ago, hopefully you remember how we started talking about the kingdom of the Holy One of God.
As Pope Paul VI put it, Jesus came first of all to proclaim a kingdom. His kingdom is the true Promised Land. The phrase “Kingdom of God” refers to the one absolute reality of life. Everything else is relative.
To quote St. Ignatius Loyola: “Health or sickness, wealth or poverty, honor or dishonor, a long life or a short one”– all are matters of indifference, compared to the Kingdom of God.
If you were reading last week, you may recall that we considered two possible interpretations of the phrase “Kingdom of God:” the vague, shallow interpretation vs. the more concrete and precise interpretation, based on the Holy Scriptures.
We were just getting ready to tackle two particularly vague things about the vague, shallow interpretation, when we ran out of time a week ago. The vague, shallow interpretation insists on being especially vague and shallow when it comes to two things.
One: What happened on the original Easter Sunday morning. What happened that morning strikes many of us, I think, as pretty important. I think some of us might go so far as to say that what happened on the first Easter Sunday morning pretty much explains why we count ourselves among the Christian faithful. It pretty much explains why the Scriptures have meaning to us, and why our celebration of Holy Mass has the meaning that it has.
Now, according to the vague, shallow interpretation of the phrase “Kingdom of God,” the Kingdom is so warm and springtimey; there’s so much spiritual positiveness in all the good, tolerant people, who always affirm each other. Maybe Jesus rose from the dead; maybe we resurrected him by liking so many of each other’s facebook comments and making each other smile so often…
Now, kindness goes a long way. It does lift people’s spirits and gives hope. We need each other very much; we need each other’s encouragement and support. But all our real success in doing these things rests on an authentic interpretation of the phrase “Kingdom of God,” and on what happened on Easter Sunday, in the pre-dawn.
The actual, Biblical account of what happened on Easter Sunday morning is: Jesus, the Galilean Jew walked out of his tomb by His own power. Over 500 eye-witnesses saw Him during the ensuing forty days.
The Kingdom of God is nothing other than the personal kingdom of this particular man, the kingdom of the Galilean Jewish carpenter who rose from the dead outside Jerusalem during the reign of Tiberius Caesar.
That is the Kingdom of God in which we hope to be citizens forever. And we can reasonably hope for such an amazing destiny because, through the sacraments of the Church, Jesus Christ risen from the dead gives us what we need to grow into true citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Which brings us to the second matter in which the vague, shallow interpretation of the phrase “Kingdom of God” can leave us cold. Namely, what happens at Mass.
What happens: Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, arrives. He comes to us. He stands among us, with us, beside us, before us. He is the Teacher; He is the Priest; He is the Food; He is the Body.
Now, according to the vague, shallow interpretation of the “Kingdom of God,” all this happens because of us. “Christ” is really our idea. He is our idea of ourselves, on our good days.
According to the Scriptures, though, the whole business of celebrating Mass is, for us, simply a matter of obedience. Christ commanded that we be the Church in the way that He designed, namely by celebrating Holy Mass according to His crystal-clear command.
Different groups have their different founders, who laid down their different rules. And we have ours. Jesus of Nazareth, Who, three days before Easter Sunday, laid down the fundamental command for the Church: Take and eat. Take and drink. Do this in memory of Me.
Christ’s Presence with us–in the Blessed Sacrament of His Body and Blood, in His Word, and in us as a Body gathered together–that Presence is His work, a gift that we receive, with which He invites us to co-operate. Without Him, we have nothing. With Him, we have a kingdom to inherit.
The “Kingdom of God” can be found in the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Nazareth, Who is here with us in the Holy Eucharist. The Kingdom begins here. And it doesn’t end.