Contemplating the Reign of God

In order to probe deeply into the readings of today, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that we are now returning to what we call Ordinary Time in the Church. This is the eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. Before we had the season of Lent and Easter and Pentecost, we had already begun Ordinary Time and celebrated seven or eight Sundays. At the beginning of that Ordinary Time, one of our first gospel lessons taken from Mark was the beginning of the public life of Jesus.

 

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel 17:22-24
Psalms 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16
2 Corinthians 5:6-10
Mark 4:26-34
Full text of the readings

Mark, in his gospel, doesn’t have any story about the birth and the early life of Jesus. He starts immediately with the public life and he has Jesus going out into the crowds and proclaiming immediately, “The Reign of God is at hand. The Reign of God is ready to break forth. Change your lives.” That was his message, “The Reign of God is at hand. Right now.” What do we mean by the Reign of God?

Sometimes in the scriptures it’s called the Kingdom of Heaven, or the Kingdom of Salvation, but I really think the best term is, the Reign of God. Scripture scholars, commentators on the scriptures, explain the Reign of God like this: one says, “It’s the dynamic rule of God’s saving love.” The Reign of God is dynamic and it’s God’s love over all of the universe — that’s the Reign of God. Or another scripture scholar says, “The Reign of God is a community of human persons embracing God’s love made present in Jesus.”

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That’s all of us then. We’re the community of human persons embracing God’s love, which is poured forth upon all of the universe, that is drawing the universe into existence. We’re the community of God’s people embracing that love made present in Jesus. That’s how we see what the love of God is like — by coming to know Jesus. So this “Reign of God is at hand,” as Jesus proclaims it. What would it look like if the Reign of God came in fullness? It’s at hand; it’s ready to break forth. What would it look like if all of us really embraced God’s love proclaimed in Jesus and followed his way?

I think the best picture of it is given by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Again, it’s at the beginning of his public life. He has been in the desert fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, and he comes back to his hometown, Nazareth. He goes into the synagogue and they hand him the scroll of the Scriptures to read. Jesus takes the scroll and Luke says, “He carefully unrolls it until he finds the place.” He knows what he’s looking for. Then he proclaims the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of God is upon me. God sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim God’s year of favor, the Jubilee — time of God.”

In the Jewish tradition, every 50 years was a Jubilee year. That was a time when all debts were removed. Everyone had a chance once more to begin to share in all the goods of the earth that God gave for all and not for a few — the Jubilee time. But also good news to the poor — healing the brokenhearted, setting the downtrodden free, breaking the yoke of oppression and injustice. The Reign of God is a time of fullness of life, of joy, of goodness for every person, for all of the universe. It’s ready to break forth.

How will it happen? That’s why Jesus came — to proclaim this good news. Then as we learn in the gospels, he calls disciples to follow him, “Come and follow me.” What’s the role of the disciple then? The disciples — this is the community of disciples of Jesus — the Church. We’re that community gathered here. What’s our task then? You may remember on Easter Sunday night in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus comes to the disciples, breathed on them, and then tells them to go forth as his followers to proclaim the good news everywhere. “As God has sent me, I send you.” I send you—that means us. To do what?

Again, I can draw from the words of a martyr for our faith, one of the Jesuits who was murdered back in 1989. He was director of the University of Central America in El Salvador — Ignacio Ellacuria. He and the other Jesuits there were being attacked, especially through the press. Their names were on the death list in this terrible time in El Salvador, the time of Oscar Romero — you may remember him. Ignacio Ellacuria was attacked with the other Jesuits in the newspaper article where the Jesuits were accused of being too destructive, too violent, and too utopian. They were accused of trying to form a violent revolution.

The rich and the powerful were opposed to them. They were murdered on November 16, 1989. But before they were murdered, Ignacio wrote a response to that charge against them. He said, “We are not too violent. We reject violence of every sort. Yes, we want to bring about revolutionary change, but through non-violent means only. We reject violence. We’re not too destructive. Perhaps if the author is correct in any way, we’re too utopian.”

Too utopian — Why? He says, “Because we’re a people of the gospel, the good news of Jesus. We’re a people of that good news, and we are called by Jesus to transform our world into as close an image of the Reign of God as possible. That’s why we’re here.” That’s what he declares with the Jesuits and their work there. But it’s the work of the whole Church — our work — to transform the world into as close an image of the Reign of God as possible, to make the world a place where everyone has a chance for fullness of life, where there is peace, where there is joy, where there is goodness being shared by all.

It’s a beautiful, marvelous picture — the Reign of God. In the parables today, Jesus is instructing us that it’s our task now to transform our world to as close an image of the Reign of God as possible. In the first parable of today, he gives us a little bit of a warning. We might think, “We’re going to do it all. It’s my job to transform the world,” Not really, that’s beyond us. God will transform the world. We are called to enter into the work of God. The sewer goes out to sew the seed and doesn’t do anything more. After that, God takes over, brings it to fullness of life.

So God is bringing forth the Reign of God, but we’re called to enter into God’s work, to share in making that Reign of God happen by helping to transform our world into that kingdom of peace and justice and mercy and love. That’s an important thing, not to think that we do it all. God is doing it and we share in God’s work through Jesus. The other parable today instructs us a little bit by reminding us that the Reign of God is not God dominating, coercing, using force or power; it’s through love.

Jesus said, “When I am lifted up (he means on the cross), I will draw all people to myself through love.” That’s how you transform the world. That’s how the Reign of God will break forth — when we begin to follow Jesus and his way of love. That can happen in small ways that give us a sense of how it can happen and how gradually, the whole Reign of God will break forth in its fullness. I think of some of the examples that Pope Francis has given us of little ways in which he makes it clear that the Reign of God is breaking forth in our world.  

One of the ways that Luke said, “It means proclaiming good news to the poor, to reaching out to the poor, showing them respect, giving them a sense of dignity.” Francis has done that in a couple of ways that are, I think, very striking. Not very long ago, he sent the archbishop, whom he has appointed as his almoner, the one who goes out where the homeless are, shares goods with them, draws them in. He told that almoner, “Go and bring 50 or so people — homeless, poor people living on the streets — bring them into the Vatican, take them to the Sistine Chapel. We’ll give them a tour of this most beautiful, marvelous work that thousands and tens of thousands of people come to visit every year, but the poor never get a chance.”

So they do it and the Pope is there guiding these people through the Sistine Chapel because he loves the poor, he reaches out to the poor, and proclaims good news to the poor. It’s a small thing, but it’s a beautiful example for every one of us could someway reach out to the poor, draw them in, make them part of our community, show them love and respect. That’s making the Reign of God happen.

In other ways Francis is also very adamant about rejecting violence. Our second parable today, the parable about the tiny mustard seed becoming a bush and not a mighty cedar tree like Ezekiel saw — just a bush, but it’s a bush that shows a kind of humility, so the Reign of God is not dominating. We can’t use force; we can’t use violence. Francis, just this week for example, met with President Putin from Russia. He engaged him in conversation about the wrong of invading Ukraine.

Francis takes that directly to the person responsible and speaks to him about, “No, violence is not right.” He, in a very small way perhaps, is helping to make the Reign of God happen by showing we must reject violence, we must reject war, we must always work for peace through love. That means not only as Francis is doing in the international scene, but also in our daily life, in our homes, our community, our state, our country — each of us in some way bringing peace where there’s violence in our world.

That’s making the Reign of God break forth. So as we listen to today’s scriptures, we must remind ourselves that the Reign of God is at hand. It can break forth. Jesus has called us, “As God sent me, I send you.” Jesus calls every one of us to be his Church, to be an instrument by which we transform our world into as close an image of the Reign of God as possible.

There are ways — maybe we’d think of them not as big ways, but important ways that we can bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, give the blind new sight, make the downtrodden free, and proclaim God’s year of favor, share the goods of the world with all. The Reign of God is at hand. We are called to transform our world into that image of the Reign of God. As we listen to today’s scripture, I hope we hear God say to me, “Go. As God sent Jesus, God sends me to make the Reign of God happen.”

[Homily given at St. Anne Church in Frankfort, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]

Bishop Gumbleton's homily for June 14, 2015

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