With the celebration of Pentecost complete we move into Ordinary Time where we discover more deeply how to live the mission of Christ in our lives. We have walked with Jesus to discover more deeply His deepest desire for us, and now, having received His Spirit, He walks within us to lead and guide us to fulfill our mission as his disciples.
When I was a child and heard about the Kingdom of God, I was taught that this was a synonym for heaven – or eternal life – somewhere to be after I die. Today’s readings might have informed that partial understanding, but subsequent theological study and prayer has lead me to an appreciation of what I think is a much more expanded (and life transforming) grasp of the term “The Kingdom of God” used in the Gospel of Mark and its parallel term “reign of God” often used in Luke.
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus is approached by a young man who has many possessions. This certainly could be any one who is an ordinary American consumer. I don’t think one has to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffett to illustrate this young man’s state in life. I have come to discover that possessions in a New Testament biblical sense can include my fundamental relationships with my husband, parents, siblings, and best friends. For others it might also include children and grandchildren. Possessions will include the roles that I have here at Creighton University, especially my tenured position that makes picking up and moving away at least “sticky” if not outright challenging. Possessions include the good opinions or status that any of us cherishes and protects, the political and social rights we take for granted, and the physical health we may enjoy, the research we have engaged and the books we may have authored. Without ever getting to car, house, and bank accounts, retirement accounts and insurance policies that most provident Americans possess we already have a long lists of material ties that possess us as much as we possess them. So we can easily put ourselves in the person of the young man who approaches Jesus even if we can’t claim to have kept all the commandments from our early childhood years as he did.
“How hard it is for those with possessions to enter the Kingdom of God,” Mark quotes Jesus as saying. The disciples were astonished to hear this – how much more ought we to be astonished if we really get what Jesus is saying: Anyone who has any tie to anyone or anything will not earn entry into the Kingdom. Our astonishment might invite us to ponder what the essence of the Kingdom of God is and why possessions of any kind make it hard (if not impossible) to enter it. Perhaps instead of having an image of place as the Kingdom, I image it as the state of most basic or fundamental relationship between God and me. Ignatius of Loyola sees this shift of recognition about God’s Kingdom or Reign as the first principle of the Christian life. He also calls it the foundation of the Christian life. Every other aspect of true Christian life depends upon this recognition – the Reign or Kingdom of God is a core, personal relationship with the Trinity that displaces the importance and focal identity of EVERY other relationship we might have with our own bodies and spirits as well as other persons, places or things. In the right relationship with God one does not love one’s self or one’s spouse first – one loves God first. One does not love a new baby first, one loves God ahead of that baby. One does not value one’s profession or title or role above one’s subordinate and primary relationship with God, and so forth.
What this means, of course, is that a true Christian assesses every day, every hour of the day what impact any relationship has on her primary relationship with God. This is entering in or dwelling in the Kingdom of God – right here and now – not just in whatever new creation God brings us to after death. The Kingdom of God is within each one of us if we belong to it. It has to transform the way we look at everything. As Ignatius points out, nothing can possess me or be possessed by me at all, unless it is given (and able to be taken back) by God for God’s usage through us or without us. Every single person, place, relationship, material good – even health and personal well being – belongs first to God, and is loaned to me to enhance my relationship with God. If it distracts me from that relationship or sets itself up as a separate god (to which I give my life and devotion) then I have to be dispossessed of it to enter or re-enter God’s Kingdom. I can’t come into the Reign of God unless God is the acknowledged center, beginning and end of my existence. How hard that is for any of us! How easily do persons of good will get distracted by seeming goods such as ideas or plans, material properties or accomplishments, even structures such as government, home life or Church institution or community. No wonder it is impossible to participate in God’s reign except by God’s power and mercy.
The reading today from Peter’s first letter reminds us that we have to suffer through various trials so that our faith in Jesus is proved genuine. I once thought of these trials as some sort of persecution or at least someone else’s efforts to thwart my good work, but I think now, perhaps the greatest trial any of us faces is God’s question: “Can you leave this ___________ behind if I ask you to?” And the blank here is filled by most important relationship, or hard earned position, or religious community, or idea, or strength or talent or . . . well the trials might go on for awhile before the glory of the Kingdom becomes possible in our lives. I think I will take the terms of the Lord’s Prayer a little more seriously the next time I say it.
“We dare to say . . . Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”
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