What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? (Mark 4: 30)
Jesus preaches often, frequently about the Kingdom of God. In fact most of his parables begin with the words “The Kingdom of God is like …”. Yet despite this, preachers and scholars have debated and argued about just what he meant by “The Kingdom of God”.
Does it perhaps relate simply to the Church - the Church on earth - when it lives as it should. After all, he did appoint 12 apostles, 12 being the number of the tribes of the Kingdom of Israel. And St Peter did speak of the Church as a “royal priesthood, a holy nation”. Is the Kingdom of God more or less the Church on earth. Pope, Bishops and of course the people?
But on the other hand, is he rather talking about Heaven, - not the way things are or should be now, but our ultimate destiny at the end of time? Well, He does talk about the wheat being gathered into the Kingdom and the tares cast in the fire, and we do have the magnificent account of the final judgment, when the King separates the people as the Shepherd separates the sheep and the goats?
And let’s be clear, this isn’t just a debate for university professors and Biblical studies specialists. At heart this is a matter of how we understand the role of Faith in our world. It has an effect on the way we understand the Church, and Society, and Politics and issues of justice. If the Church is God’s kingdom on earth then it says a great deal about the power and authority of the Church, and her role, her duty in political life. But if the Kingdom is only in heaven, in the next life, then it might suggest that the faith is entirely spiritual, and imply that Christians should leave the murky world around them, and let the politicians just get on with it.
As always, it is best to go back to what Jesus actually says, and teaches.
There is a clue to the answer in the prayer Jesus taught us all to say: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
In today’s Gospel, he says, the Kingdom is like crops which apparently grow all on their own - and like a tiny seed which amazing becomes a large and extensive plant. Today he tells us that God’s Kingdom is about the workings of his Grace: God involved in the world almost secretly, God’s kingdom growing and - we could say infusing or even infiltrating the world - with a power and a pervasiveness which takes us by surprise.
The Kingdom is indeed from Heaven (God’s Kingdom, not Humanity’s Kingdom) yet through God’s action it is working, and growing, and appearing on earth.
The Kingdom is in the world, yet not of the world.
It is the Church on earth - yet much more than the Church on earth.
It is the power of God, transforming creation, society, the world. The Kingdom brings love and forgiveness and peace, as Our Lady herself sang when she visited her cousin Elizabeth, it is “casting the mighty from their thrones, and exalting the humble and meek”.
The Kingdom will never fit the easy simple models we would like to impose upon it - because God always challenges us. “The Kingdom of God” is amongst you, Jesus said - yet he warned us that it will be the way in which we treat others, the poor, the needy and the outcast, forgive those who have hurt us, pray for those who persecute us, that will determine whether we are counted amongst the sheep or the goats.