It also was an opportunity for preachers to reflect on the idea of the Kingdom of God, something which to my mind is at the heart of Christianity but not too often talked about. In both Matthew and Mark’s gospel Jesus begins his ministry with the call to repent for the kingdom of God has come near, declaring this as good news. At that time the people of Israel were living under Roman occupation and control. They longed for a Messiah who would be both priest, prophet and king and establish the return of the Kingdom of Israel’s glory days under King David. For them any sense of kingdom was a physical one but not so for Jesus. His message was that there is another level of being, a spiritual kingdom which is not recognised by power, wealth or glory but by the more spiritual values of justice, peace, service, love, compassion, integrity, reconciliation, wisdom. It is to have a concern for the common good and indeed the good of all sentient beings.
Those who heard this message of Jesus interpreted it according to their own understanding at the time and, especially in the light of their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, thought that the end times had come, and the Kingdom of God was at last to be established in their land. This was a dilemma for those early Christians and led to much reflection on the nature of the Kingdom preached by Jesus. According to Luke the disciples of Jesus “supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately” (19:11) even though in the gospel Jesus had told those who were enquiring when the kingdom of God was coming “the kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say ‘Look here it is ‘or ‘there it is’. For in fact the kingdom of God is among you.” (17:20-22).
I like the idea that Christians ought to be kingdom spotters. And once you begin to look for evidence of the kingdom you see it everywhere – in the love and concern of parents for their children, in families struggling to care of their families during a financial recession, in parents living with children with severe disabilities, coping with difficult children who have left home, got themselves involved in addictions. It’s also to be seen in wider society in those working in our hospitals, social services, those committed to helping refugees, the homeless, the bereaved. It is also seen in those who are refugees, who are homeless, who are coping with trauma and bereavement as they struggle to make sense of their situation and cope with what life has thrown at them. It is to be seen in conflict and war zones, in those negotiating peace and those caring for the dead and wounded. It is to be seen in all those who have a concern for climate change and the environment, in those protesting bad and unjust government policies. It is indeed everywhere.
But it is not enough just to recognise the presence of the kingdom of God outside of ourselves for we are part of it. The kingdom of God is also within us, and the Christian belief is that, made in the image and likeness of God as we all are, inspired by God’s own spirit we have the potential within us to live out its values of love, commitment, justice, selflessness, wisdom – the gifts and virtues are all there if we would develop and use them. This of course requires repentance and conversion – repentance that we often live in our own bubble with only a concern for ourselves and our comfort, that we forget our interrelatedness with all living beings so that we forget what we do to others we are doing to ourselves and what we do to and for ourselves has repercussions on others. The idea of the kingdom of God and our ability to cooperate with it and work for its growth in ordinary ways is a vision to give meaning and purpose to our lives. We are facing great challenges of poverty, homelessness, refugees, climate change in society and we have our own challenges at home, but we have great possibilities within us to make a difference in that small part of the world in which we live.
Jesus says in the gospels that this message of the Kingdom is the good news. This I think should be at the heart of the new evangelisation that Pope Francis is promoting and I believe it is good news, easily recognised by those of other faiths as well as those of no faith. It is a vision for the future.