JULY 8, 2009:MATTHEW 10:1-7

 

GO AFTER THE LOST SHEEP OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL MAKE THIS ANNOUNCEMENT: THE REIGN OF GOD IS AT HAND. The subject of the earliest Christian preaching was assigned by Jesus himself. It consisted of the announcement that the kingdom of God is approaching. This nearness of God’s reign creates a situation of tension that calls for a response in the form of a conversion, a change of heart and of the values that we live by in practice. Our Lord was concerned in his own preaching to convey an adequate concept of the nature of the kingdom of God and in various parables spoke of its precious contents. How central this subject is for his message is clear from the fact that this phrase ‘kingdom of God’ (basileia tou Theou in the original Greek) occurs 122 times in the New Testament, ninety times on the lips of our Lord himself.

 

In his recent book “Jesus of Nazareth”, Pope Benedict XVI gives attentive consideration to the meaning of this theme ‘the reign of God’. The Holy Father adopts a view expressed long before by Origen who had addressed the same subject and, in the process had coined a new word, ‘autobasileia’. Origen framed his thought in the following comment: “For he [Christ] is the king of heaven and as he is wisdom itself and justice itself, so also is he not the kingdom itself? At the deepest level this expression is a designation of the person of Jesus himself, the Pope maintains. At first, this is a rather surprising assertion, and yet it captures a fundamental insight into the truth of our faith. Our faith consists precisely in the fact that with the appearance of Jesus, God himself enters personally human history. He transforms the relations of man among themselves and with God, rendering our dealings highly personal. Saint Paul developed this feature of the Incarnation in extended detail by teaching that through faith in Jesus we become his members. Saint Augustine took the implications of this truth further in his commentary on the Psalms where he points out that all the Psalms are the prayer of Christ, speaking as head, or in his members, or as head and members together. 

 

The expression he basileia Theou can be translated as ‘kingdom of God’ as well as ‘reign of God’. There is a difference of meaning between the two. Most of us think of a kingdom as the country ruled by a king, whereas the reign of a king suggests the period and manner of the ruler. Either sense, of course, evokes the other; the difference is more one of emphasis and focus. And that is precisely the point at issue in regard to the way we hear this message that the kingdom of God is near as Jesus launches his ministry. The Holy Father’s reading stresses the personal nature of faith. In accepting the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God, we enter upon a personal, intimate relation with the very Son of God himself, made flesh and dwelling among us. In the first place it is this transcendent communion of persons that is the essence of this teaching. The specific detailed laws and practices that join the company of believers in community are not primary but rather flow from the unity of heart and spirit of each believer with the person of Jesus.

 

We tend to think of a government, whether a kingdom or democracy, as an external system of laws and customs that unite members of a country in a recognizable lifestyle, an expression of a distinctive culture. This conception is quite suitable for the kingdoms of history and the democratic countries of our current world as well. Whether a subject obeys the law from self-interest or devotion to the common good does not determine innocence or guilt; the facts of the case are the norm. In our relation with God the norm, on the contrary, is always personal. Our worth, the quality of our actions, depend upon the dispositions of our heart, of our inner self for we are always dealing in this life, with the persons of the Trinity who are the one God. God’s kingdom has drawn near to us and is present is the person of his beloved Son, Jesus. Our ultimate worth is determined by our inmost relation to His person, for he is the ‘autobasileia’, the kingdom of God himself, and we are his members by his grace. This is the great gift for which we thank and praise the Father in our Eucharist today.&          


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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