Tag Archives: Kingdom of God

17TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2017

It’s quite obvious that most of the praying done by us Christians is prayer of petition – asking God to grant favors or work miracles or support us in our plans. That’s quite natural: we are always in need of more than we think we can accomplish on our own and so we appeal to God, as pagans appeal to the forces of nature or to their invented gods, or as others resort to lucky charms and superstitious practices. It can’t be wrong to ask God to act on our behalf: the history of the human race’s relationship with God is filled with such requests. Even Jesus left us, his followers, an asking prayer, the “Our Father,” as we call it and which we’ll be saying again together in just a few minutes.

However, while recognizing the legitimate place of petitionary prayer in the life of a Christian, we must emphasize that its most perfect expression is what we find in that beautiful prayer of King Solomon, which we just heard in the excerpt from the Hebrew Book of Kings. Solomon asked but one favor of God, and that was the power to know always what would be the right thing to do in order to serve the people well and to please God. Solomon was overwhelmed by the enormity and the complexity of the kingly office he had inherited from his father, King David, and saw himself as too young, too inexperienced, too lacking in knowledge to rule wisely. And so he begged, not for personal riches or for victory in battle or even for a long and healthy life, but for wisdom and understanding so that he could rule with justice and compassion. To this day he is honored for that remarkable goodness of character.

Have you ever been told by someone that he or she has prayed for you for a long time? I have, often. I remember that, when I reported for my 20-year assignment as pastor at St. Brendan’s in Clifton 39 years ago, among the lovely greetings of welcome I received was that of a woman who told me that she had prayed for me every day of the previous eleven years, ever since the day we first met. I can’t tell you, as I couldn’t tell her way back then, how much that meant to me. Many times since, I’ve wondered how much of the strength and wisdom that job demanded came through the caring prayers of people like her.

Was it Plato or Aristotle or some other Greek (I can never keep those sages straight) who said that we do not achieve wisdom until we reach the age of 50? But we pray, and others pray for us, and we ask the Spirit of God within us to guide us in the way of wisdom even before we have attained it sufficiently ourselves. We ask to be able to interpret the events of our life more objectively, freer of personal prejudice. We ask to understand the meaning and eventual purpose of everything we experience. We ask to remain confident, patient, peaceful, especially in times of great personal stress and bewilderment, in times of sorrow and fear and disappointment. Prayers like these are answered always – but we have to trust enough to voice them.

The Gospel passage today is about the Kingdom of God – hidden among and within us, found by persons of faith — the Kingdom about which Jesus said, Seek it first and everything else will be given to you. How do we pray? What do we ask for? The Kingdom of God is recognized wherever there are justice and mercy and kindness and forgiveness and peace and patience and love. Our prayer should always reflect those concerns above all others. Jesus assures us that every particular need of our own complicated lives will be provided if we ask first for wisdom and understanding as the underpinnings of justice and love.

THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2017

Is it “takes away the sins of the world” or “takes away the sin of the world”? Scripture experts say it is singular — sin —because it doesn’t refer to our individual sinful acts like thievery or sexual abuse or drunken driving, but sin as an attitude, a disposition, a perverse relationship to life.

The sin of the world that Jesus speaks of is its indifference to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; it’s the inertia that develops as we grow used to hurtful, uncharitable, careless ways, for which we excuse ourselves on the grounds that “everybody’s doing it”. It’s a hardening, a desensitizing, of the human spirit, a rejection of the Spirit of God.

This has to be what Jesus was targeting when he said, “Repent, because the Kingdom of God is at hand.” I doubt that he had in mind the petty stuff that forms the bulk of our personal confessions, like — “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Twice I got very angry at my husband…” Jesus was always compassionate even toward serious human failings. But he showed no mercy toward unrepentant persons who systematically fed on the lives of others, especially the poor, the ignorant and the powerless.

I once saw a TV documentary on the drug problem in Switzerland and a place there called “Needle Park”, where addicts, many dying from AIDS, can exchange dirty needles for new ones. A short distance from this cemetery of the living dead are the world famous Swiss banks, whose captains are fully aware that much of the money they are handling is drug money, made on the broken lives of others. When these apparently respectable bankers — many of them family persons and church-goers — are asked how they settle their consciences in the matter, they simply disown any responsibility — except for processing the money for profit. They ask no questions, apparently not wanting to know where the money comes from.

That’s a truly sinful situation. We’re tempted to ask whose is the greatest sin: the pusher, the user, or the banker. It’s the system itself and every one of its conscious and willing members.

And what about the manufacturers of asbestos, who knew almost a century ago that they were producing a substance that would destroy countless innocent lives and yet went on for generations building massive fortunes without a twinge of conscience?

The drug lords, the pornographers, the war-makers, the cigarette manufacturers, the corrupt government bureaucrats — they represent systems that are evil — complex organizations that take on a life of their own apart from God and the laws of human nature. They become independent and morally unaccountable to any authority beyond themselves. And this is sin in the singular: an aversion to God, the opposite of holiness, which means being turned toward God.

The question arises, of course, as to what degree, if any, we are involved in such deadly sin. Have we made peace with it? Do we refuse to admit that that aspect of our lives may need rethinking and reform? Are we ready and willing to take even a small step to confront the evil we recognize?

We can do that by registering our objection to the perpetrators in any way possible to us and by boycotting the products they provide. Maybe you will soon be inspired to confront one or another of them, asking that they consider what harm their money-making schemes are doing, especially to our young people, and asking them to desist from now on. If you do, you will have been an agent of Jesus’ gospel, that always involves sincere repentance.

HOMILY FOR 29TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME 2015

I think it’s true to say that many of us are not comfortable with the word “kingdom,” which Jesus frequently mentions and which is a constant in our traditional prayers.  We associate it with fairy tales or with far distant lands like Monaco or Siam, so different from our democratic form of government.  It’s necessary for us to grasp its meaning, otherwise it’s a throwaway and a distraction.

I suggest that we understand it to mean unfailing awareness of the presence of God in our here & now lives — remaining conscious always, no matter where we are or what we are doing, that we “live and move and have our being,” as the liturgical prayer so nicely puts it, only because God creates us and sustains our existence from moment to moment by loving presence that is never withdrawn.

Kingdom behavior, then, is the basic lifestyle of the person who cultivates the enduring awareness of the presence of God in every situation of his or her life and lives life deliberately interacting with it.  A lawyer acquaintance of mine wears one of those bracelets that read “What Would Jesus Do?”  I happened to be present once when, on the opposite side of the huge table at which we were sitting in a State court office, he lifted his shirt sleeve in a tense and challenging moment, gazed at the familiar line, and, I assumed, submitted his judgment of the issue at hand to the judgment and wisdom of the Creator he knows is always with him.

That is living in the Kingdom of God on earth; that is the Kingdom of God partially realized in this messy, sinful world.  It’s not about visions and secret messages from on high; it’s not about abandoning common sense or the processes of legitimate government or any other human instrument or agency.  It’s about knowing that underlying all human activity is the presence of the Creator God, the Creative Spirit, and that we become more human, and work at our best, when we invite the ever-present power and love of God to infiltrate our minds and our hearts

On a much lighter note, I add this, which occurred only four days ago: I was in a doctor’s examination room awaiting his arrival.  The attractive young nurse who was recording my stats told me that I was the 28th person they were seeing that day.  I asked how they remained attentive, patient and pleasant in such an unrelenting routine.  She didn’t have any idea that I was a priest as she answered sweetly, “I can tell you this: I do pray a lot.”

I like to think that that is what Jesus had partly in mind when, in another of his teachings, he urged us to give back to God what belongs to God – not giving back in the sense of losing or giving up, but giving back in the sense of reuniting.

HOMILY FOR 3RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, 2015

It appears that the two young men who successfully climbed that sheer-rock, 3000-foot mountain wall recently are as intelligent as they are courageous and physically strong.  Their responses to the eager press’s questions after their extraordinary feat were also out of the ordinary, I thought.  One in particular caught my attention and stays with me for whatever reason, as it did while I was crafting this homily.  They were asked what they would say to their admirers, what advice they would give them.  One of the two answered with an infectious smile saying that he would suggest to them that they find their own mountain and conquer it.

Great answer!  Very certain that even if I were one-quarter my present age and three-quarters my present weight I’d not be scaling any mountains, whatever their height, I began to wonder what the figurative “mountain” in my life might be that is waiting for me to climb it.  I must have a few, I thought.  Further introspection proved me right.  Some of them, I realized, are old, as I am old, and bear scars of age not unlike the ones my spirit and body have acquired over time.

That left me with a decision to make: either walk away from the whole matter and not care whether or not I’d ever return to it, or to pursue it, not only as a workable introduction for a homily, but also, far more importantly, to start searching for my “mountain,” to explore it from below, to pray for wisdom and guidance, to devise a strategy, and to begin, however feebly, to climb.

What’s essential in our cultivation of genuinely Christian lives is not unbroken successes — or any success at all, for that matter.  It is rather that we remain in pursuit, that we keep trying, regardless of results.  That we never give up the struggle.  Perseverance.   Collaboration with the Spirit of God within us.

Conversion is an on-going process, not a one-time event.  We humans are not confirmed in goodness and fidelity.  We waver; we are tempted; and we find that what the temptation offers is very attractive.  Life is an endless series of renewed good intentions: we are in constant need of conversion.

The scripture readings on this 3rd Sunday of the year emphasize the necessity of turning away from one lifestyle and embracing another: Jonas pleads with the people of Nineveh to quit their immoral ways and show their good intention to reform by an act of public penance.  St. Paul, believing, as he mistakenly did, that the end of this world was about to occur, urges the new followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth to treat the affairs of this present world as if they did not really exist and instead to think and act with eyes on the world to come.  And then, in the gospel for today, Jesus invites certain ones of his followers to a commitment they had never imagined making: to actually leave their jobs, their homes and their families, and join him in the difficult, demanding, exhausting, and even dangerous work of announcing his message of Good News to the entire known world.

What’s expected of us is not quite the same, but it has the same roots.  Conversion for anyone implies turning away from something and toward something else in its place.  We have to turn away from attitudes we know conflict with Jesus’ mind & heart.  Prejudice that holds back the growth of unity.  Conservatism that will not permit the Spirit of God to renew the face of the earth.  Pessimism that cannot see the Kingdom of God taking shape in our midst even in the worst of times.  And so forth.

Having cleared the field of these and other such negatives, we then turn toward life, embracing its promises and its risks, and discovering again and more fully the love that is God in our midst.