11th Sunday B – Imagining the Kingdom
There’s great relief all round that more and more people are being vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. Goodbye and good riddance to those lockdowns and other restrictions! Like the Spirit of God, the virus seems to blow where it will and infect whom it will. And where two or three or more people gather together there the virus becomes very active. It is hard to pin it down. But it hasn’t gone away and we are right to be careful. It is still an airborne and invisible enemy that’s on the move in our midst. It’s still transmissible from person to person though the numbers of people likely to get it has been enormously reduced. As I think about the virus at this late stage I wonder if it can be seen a kind of metaphor that might help us grasp the elusive yet ever-present kingdom or reign of God in our midst.
For some, the kingdom of God means heaven, for others it is Christianity, for others again it is Roman Catholicism, or again it is the community of all the saved… Well, what is it? God has been loving the world since the beginning, since the Big Bang some 14.8 billion years ago. Every atom of creation pulses with his presence and his love. There’s the kingdom. It’s in our midst. It’s hard to read Psalm 103 and not sense the love and intention behind it all. Many have a sixth sense of a divine power behind everyday reality. The kingdom is out there, airborne like a virus if you like, intangible yet tangible. It’s like a seed growing in the earth to become a tree where birds can build their nests. It is everywhere, yet visible and accessible only in particular places and situations. Jesuit Fr. Donal Neary compares the love of parents who give birth and life and nurturing to children and grandchildren to a mustard seed that becomes a big tree (1).
It’s good and helpful to keep an eye on the big picture of the Gospel, the kingdom: God’s unconditional love and forgiveness. “The essential Gospel,” writes Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr, “is God’s loving union with all of creation from the beginning” (2). While it is probably true that Christianity, like politics, is local, we need to think globally while we live local by faith, act local with love, and walk local with hope. Hope is living with the “not yet,” the apparent incompleteness of the seed we have sown, the prayer that has not yet been answered. It’s the energy to get up again after we have confronted frustration. A school principal once told me that a good teacher, like a good parent, has got to be in love with the process of planting the seed, but shouldn’t have a need to be around for the harvest or, much less, determine what the harvest should be like. The same is true for all who plant good seeds and do random acts of kindness. Leave the results to God.
For us, the kingdom is like tiny seeds scattered here and there. There’s something enigmatic and inscrutable about the ways of God. I watch the birds outside my apartment descend on a large expanse of grass and feed themselves on buried seeds and such that are hidden in the ground. It’s an image of the kingdom being worked out locally. The kingdom is happening whenever someone looks afresh at the world, feels new excitement, rejoices in its beauty, and is energised to share their gladness. For the ancients, growth – the development of seed into plants – was incomprehensible, a mystery. Not so for us today; we know the bio-chemistry that’s involved. But the ways of God are as mysterious to us today as the phenomenon of growth was to people long ago. The mysteriousness of God’s ways is the thing. Imagination was given to us humans so as to make sense of mystery such as the kingdom of God.
- Fr Donal Neary SJ
- Fr Richard Rohr OFM