Our gospel this Sunday forms the final paragraphs of Matthew chapter 13 where Jesus had been teaching the crowds that had gathered by the lakeside to listen to Him. He had just concluded speaking to His audience about the parables of the sower and about the wheat and darnel. Now Jesus concludes that teaching by describing the Kingdom of God (for Matthew “the kingdom of heaven”) and He does it by using in four “parables” (sometimes known as the parables of the kingdom): (1) the kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field; (2) it is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; (3) it is like a dragnet cast into the sea; and finally (4) the kingdom is like a householder who brings out from his storeroom things both new and old.
It is not the easiest passage in the Bible to understand the meaning of this Kingdom that Jesus often speaks about. In the New Testament alone, this word is used 162 times and it is used in a variety of senses, depending upon the context. However, what is clear is that the theme of God’s kingdom is an important one. In fact, Mark the evangelist will have Jesus’ opening words as he begins His public ministry as, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:13). In other words, the theme of the kingdom is going to be at the core of Jesus’ proclamation. Therefore, let us try today to have a glimpse of what this kingdom is all about.
For quite a while, the disciples of Jesus did not fully grasp what is this kingdom that Jesus kept referring to. They thought of the kingdom as a geographical territory and that the coming of the kingdom meant that Israel was going to be set free from the hands of the Roman empire. Therefore, the disciples may have thought that Jesus was going to establish a new order and that is why we sometimes read in the gospels the conflict of ideas between Jesus and His disciples regarding what is to come. What we do know for sure is that Jesus wasn’t speaking of a kingdom that was going to be defined by geographical territory.
Broadly speaking, the kingdom of God as described by Jesus in the gospels has two meanings: firstly, it refers to something of the future. In other words, it is not of this world and that the reign of Christ will be seen in the life after or at the second coming of Christ. More narrowly seen, the kingdom of God is a spiritual rule over the hearts and lives of those who willingly embrace God’s authority and choose to live this new way of life that Jesus came to show by choosing to live amongst us. The broad and narrow understanding of the kingdom do not exclude each other because it depends on the context in which it is being used.
The context of today’s gospel could be read in both senses – the future establishment of the kingdom of God and also that which is defined by the spiritual reign of God on all who believe Him. That is why, Jesus presents the kingdom as something of great value, something to be treasured by those who find it. Anyone who discovers this will not want to discard or trade it for anything else. That is why as Jesus went around preaching during His public ministry, He offered all those whom He encountered a way into this kingdom. He offered them a new way of life since the kingdom is not just in the future but it is also in the here and now. This new way of life is to be infused with the values of the kingdom which has love as its foundation.
We live in a world where the values of the gospels are constantly being challenged. It is not easy to choose and live the values of the gospel like love, forgiveness, inclusivity, pro-life, honesty, respect, without being looked at with scepticism and sarcasm and perhaps even mocked as being “old fashioned”. Sometimes, rather than being a catalyst for change, we succumb to peer pressure and the fear of rejection. Our first reading has God being pleased with King Solomon for praying for a discerning heart and mind rather than asking for long life and riches. We too need to pray the same – asking God for wisdom and the right judgment to choose the values of the Kingdom and not only choose them but more importantly be not afraid to ‘stand up and be counted’ for Jesus even in the face of ridicule and sarcasm. In our second reading, St Paul reminds us that all of us have been conformed to the image of Christ and justified by His love. Let us pray that we may live worthily this grace that has been bestowed upon us as we live courageously the values to the Kingdom of God. May this Kingdom be visibly present in the here and now through each one of us.
– 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)