“The Kingdom of God” in any of its variations is the most reoccurring combination of words in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Over the years, as we keep hearing about it, we try to form a concept of what it might be, because we sense that it has a lot to do with us and our eternal salvation. It seems like one of those concepts that we think we know what they are; but we wouldn’t be able to define for someone else.
Briefly, the Kingdom of God is God’s ageless desire to embrace all human beings and all other creatures into his loving arms. It is God’s plan to welcome everyone and everything into his heavenly home to enjoy the perfection of love for all eternity. If you want to use a more sophisticated term, we can call it “the total Christ.” It is the Kingdom in which the members of the Body are called to achieve the perfection of love proper to its Head, Jesus.
In chapter 8 of Romans, St. Paul writes that the entire creation (animals and plants included) groans [with us] until it will share the glorious freedom of God’s children (heaven). Today, the Lord tackles the thorny aspect of this “groaning” towards the fulfillment of the heavenly Kingdom (Matthew 13: 24-43).
If it were all up to animals and plants, God would have no trouble accomplishing his goal of establishing his Kingdom. However, we are the problem, because he created us free. But, why would God create us free? Why would God make himself vulnerable to our turning down his plan to make us part of his Kingdom? Because God is Love and he seeks the best response from his creatures; and this response can only come from those who choose so in freedom. A love response cannot be coerced. Nor can love and fear mix (cf. 1 John 4: 18).
But, our freedom is tested right away since the onset of our journey to the Kingdom. Oftentimes we seem to forget that our ways and God’s are often diametrically opposite each other (cf. Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the LORD. Also the parables that are offered to our consideration, this time, underscore this radical difference between creatures and Creator. They demand of us to be always mindful that the journey to the Kingdom calls for acceptance of paradoxes set by God and the treading on the path of mystery, sacredness and his total otherness. Hence, there is the real possibility that we might use our freedom to slow down rather than advance the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus touches upon a few challenges to the proper use of our freedom vis-à-vis the Father’s plan. Here is the first: practically, as often as we are physically or emotionally hurting or are anguished by the sorry and frightening condition of this world, we would instinctively choose to rush to the “field” where the good seed is growing and yank up the “weeds” to relieve the pain as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, precisely because we are not God, applying the analogy of the ridiculous smallness of a mustard seed to our perceived smallness, unmindful that God has a distinct penchant for whatever is diminutive and insignificant (cf. 1 Cor. 1: 27) we would be inclined to bet on whatever is bigger, stronger and apparently more expedient to solve our problems. To assist us in making the right choices in freedom, these parables are designed to help us look at any situation/predicament from the Father’s perspective. Thus, we can look and begin to understand some puzzling aspects, including the “darker side” of the journey to the Kingdom.
Precisely because of the combination of misused freedom and the natural limits inherent to each creature, we notice that the Kingdom of God is advancing, but amid a disconcerting coexistence of “good grain” and “weeds.” We also notice that, occasionally, we come across visible pockets of stunted growth, while other times, we see an encouraging increase in unexpected places.
Similarly, so that we may make more educated choices in freedom, the Holy Spirit can teach us to spot the presence of a hard, unleavened crust due to poor yeast kneading, as well as good rising of large masses of dough wherever the right dose of yeast was kneaded in.
Now, if this is what Jesus reveals to us about the peculiarities, the challenging nuances of the Kingdom of God in general; and how it is growing slowly, with ups and downs, unevenly advancing amid evil, pain and anxiety, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8: 26-27) suggests that each one of us, as a subject of that Kingdom, is a miniature replica of it. God, the One who searches hearts, finds in us good grain and weeds, stunted growth and encouraging increase, good leavening along with uneven distribution of yeast due to occasional or habitual indifference and disengagement.
If we suspect this about ourselves, first of all, we should secure a fairly accurate assessment of our true inner condition, work on it with the help of the Holy Spirit to bring us to the level of right choices made in adequate freedom and, only then, see how we would fit within the global coming of God’s Kingdom and contribute to the advancing of the “total Christ” towards its perfection.
The temptation to ignore our smallness and natural limits is as old as the original fall of Adam and Eve. We would like to be as powerful as God, albeit by relying on our human resources and making our own choices about good and evil independently of his laws. Having been made in his image and likeness, we are driven to set our own laws, enforce our own timetable on big and small events alike, and pick our own catalysts to success. We attempt this before allowing for the healing of our wounded nature to take place and with only the occasional reliance on the Holy Spirit’s help.
Do I need to state the obvious? We want to yank up the “weeds” way too prematurely; we scoff at whatever is small and humble; at times, we even miss the right dose of yeast in our interaction with others, thus creating one mess after another. History shows that we give rise to our own tricky and/or painful situations on top of those that are the normal outcome from the built-in limits of created things. Predictably, the result is mounting frustration, sterile clashing of egos, impasses, regressions and stubborn repeat of the same attempts hoping for a more desirable ending: the ending that God alone could provide within the order present in his Kingdom.
Whenever this happens, and it is often the case, in his infinite love and patience, God steps in to urge us to get over the gridlock by recalling his mighty deeds, by inviting us to rely on his way over ours, and by accepting, again, his timetable for success on the grounds that he is the only one with the full picture of reality before his eyes.
The childlike, those to whom God has revealed the mysteries of his Kingdom are given sufficient knowledge of him to lead serene and untroubled lives marked by frequent expressions of sincere gratitude. These are the people who advance steadily on their journey to the Kingdom and hold in their hearts the firm conviction that the Father alone has incredible power combined with loving mercy so as to turn even their “weeds” into wholesome grain.
We can be in their number if we accept our humanness as it is, including its ugly facets and embrace eagerly his ways of transforming us into blessed citizens who will shine like the sun in his Kingdom.
REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.