The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ez 17:22-24; Ps 92; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

What is this “Kingdom of God” about which Jesus always speaks? He tells us it’s near. And He tells us what it’s like. It’s like a pearl, a net, hidden treasure, leaven, a mustard seed. He even compares it to a landowner and a king. And He tells us to pray for its coming.

But He doesn’t really tell us what it is, does He? -- at least not explicitly. And so we’re left with lots of questions. What exactly is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Back then, of course, some people thought they knew. To the Pharisees it was strict adherence to Mosaic Law. The Zealots, the first-century Jewish revolutionaries, thought of it as an earthly kingdom to come, one that would be ruled by God. And the Essenes, the ascetic Jews of the time, withdrew into the desert to await the Kingdom, the end of the world. Yes, everyone saw the Kingdom differently.

Perhaps a better translation of “Kingdom of God” might be “The Reign of God.” This will help us understand that it's not a place, like Wildwood…or The Villages. No, despite what some people may think, The Villages is not paradise.

If it's not as place, what then is the Kingdom? Actually, we’re not completely in the dark. If we listen to Jesus, we can learn a lot about the Kingdom, about God’s reign.

Jesus’ very first words in Mark’s Gospel are, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These must be pretty important words if they’re the first words He preaches in His public ministry. So what do they tell us?

Well, one word jumps out at us: the world “Repent!” It’s the same word John the Baptist used as he roamed about Judea preparing the people for Jesus’ coming. It’s the same world Peter used on the day of Pentecost when, filled with the Holy Spirit, he told the Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, “Repent and be baptized…”

In the original Greek New Testament the word is metanoia, which means a change of mind. “Repent” is a pretty good translation of that: to re-pent, to re-think, to think again, to think differently. And so John and Peter and Jesus are all telling us to change the way we think, to undergo change in our lives. Often we use the word, conversion, which has its roots in the Latin word meaning, “to turn around.” And so repentance is really a complete change of thinking, a turning around of mind and heart.

St. Paul expresses this same idea when he tells the Ephesians to: “put away the old self of your former way of life…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” To be renewed in the spirit sounds like a pretty major interior change. 

Understanding this, what, then, is the Kingdom?

First, it’s a turning away from ourselves and a turning to God. And in that turning we will find answers to all that we search for in life: peace, freedom, justice, true happiness, the meaning of life itself. These answers cannot come from the world, a world in which everything passes away. They can come only from God, from the Father, the source of all that is good.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Good News: we have a loving God and His Kingdom is near; God’s reign is near, because the Father is near, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Jesus and the Father are one.

The invitation to the Kingdom is extended to everyone. Jesus opens the gates of His Kingdom to all, no matter our sins. We need only repent. We need only turn around; turn away from our sinfulness and to our loving Father. The Father’s kindness, His forgiveness, His love for each of His children knows no limits. As Jesus Himself told us, “…seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.”

Again, this is the Good News: the coming of the Kingdom is Jesus’ revelation that God is love.

But we’re not called simply to sit back, bask in God’s love, and enjoy the view. No, we’re all called to take that love to others, to be “God-bearers”, to be heralds of the Kingdom.

Of course you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. This is God’s Kingdom we’re talking about. And I’m just one person here in this out of the way corner of Florida.”

Well, consider that mustard seed in today’s Gospel passage, a tiny, seemingly insignificant thing. What can possibly come of something so small? And yet, despite its size, it is a seed, and so it’s filled with potential. Watered and nurtured by God’s gifts of rain and sunlight, the tiny seed becomes a tree. It need only be planted in the earth.

You and I don’t know God’s plan for us. But we do know we’re not called to sit on our hands. In the same way that He created us, God plants that tiny seed within each of us.

In a sense, our Gospel today takes us back to the moment of creation when God took clay, a piece of earth, and breathed His Spirit into it, creating Adam. One meaning of the Latin word humus is earth, and so we are from the earth, from humus. We are human. That tiny mustard seed is placed in the earth, in you and me, where it is a living sign of the Kingdom to come. God will do all the work to make it grow. We need only repent, turn to Him, walk by faith as Paul instructs us, place our trust in Him, and the Spirit will work within us. He will turn that seed into something wondrous, something beyond our comprehension.

Pope Benedict writes about the Kingdom present in three different ways. First, it is present in Jesus Himself. Jesus is the Kingdom; He is God’s presence among us. It is also a reflection of God’s reign in us. Not found on any map, it is located in our inner being, growing and reaching out to others. And, finally, the Kingdom is expressed in the Church, its actual presence within history. It’s remarkable how often we see the Kingdom manifested in all three dimensions.

When I was a boy, there was a blind man in our town who had a shack-like stand that sold newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, and candy. One winter day his stand caught fire from his space heater and was completely destroyed. He was okay but he lost everything. Within a few days one of our parishioners, with the help of matching funds from the local Lions Club, replaced the news stand and his entire inventory. It must have cost him a thousand dollars or more, a lot of money back in the fifties. The donor wanted to remain anonymous; only our pastor and a few others knew who he was.

When a local reporter interviewed the blind man, he asked him, “What do you think of the man who did this for you?” Jim just said, “That was no man. That was Jesus.”

Yes, the Kingdom is Jesus; it is His presence in the world. And as a living sign of the Kingdom of God, that one man did the work of the King, the work of Jesus Christ. The reign of the living God was present within him.

You see, brothers and sisters, the Kingdom is you and I; and Christ is our King. The Kingdom is what we are, the Church, taking Jesus Christ into a world that needs Him so very badly today.

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