Blog & Pastor Letters

The Call to Discipleship

01-24-2021Weekly Reflection


In last week’s readings the theme was a calling to discipleship. Young Samuel is called by God, and Samuel responds by saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist announces Jesus as the Lamb of God, and two of his disciples turn and follow Jesus. In the former, God calls Samuel directly; in the latter the calling is a calling of the heart. Samuel was already serving God by being an acolyte of the priest Eli. The two disciples of John the Baptist were already in a preliminary discipleship. These, you could say, were a calling of the righteous. Yet in the Second Reading last week, St. Paul is calling us to turn away from a material life, a life dominated by the body, an immoral life to a life of the Holy Spirit through whom our bodies have become a temple. There is a noticeable distinction between a calling of the righteous and a calling of sinners. St. Paul’s preaching of repentance, however, connects us to today’s readings, of which the primary theme is repentance, a calling of sinners.

Jonah is sent by God to Nineveh to preach a warning of their looming destruction. The people of Nineveh repent and God relents in his just anger. St. Paul is preaching the coming of a new way of life, a turning away from a worldly life which is “passing away,” to a life beyond this worldly life, which tends toward sinfulness. The preaching of Jonah and the preaching of Paul are a calling of repentance, but not merely a turning away from sin to virtue, but doing so in preparation for something beyond this life, preparation for the coming life which virtue leads us to. In today’s Gospel Jesus is more specific in proclaiming that new life as “the kingdom of God.”

“Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” This was the message John the Baptist was sent to preach and his baptizing was a “baptism of repentance.” John was sent to “prepare the way of the Lord;” a mission of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. “After John was arrested,” Jesus takes up this preaching mission with the same message as John, “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” John is preparing for the coming of the Lord, Jesus is proclaiming the coming of The Kingdom. Does this mean that Jesus is the Kingdom? Is Jesus prophesying God’s Kingdom as a realm to come? Yes, both.

In baptism preparation we speak of being “baptized into Christ,” and initiation “into the Church.” Here again we see the overlapping phenomenon of the Kingdom of God; Christ and the Kingdom of God are one. The Church, as the Bride of Christ, is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is proclaimed throughout the four Gospels. In Matthew it is referred to as “the kingdom of heaven.” This is because Matthew was preaching primarily to Jewish converts, and under Jewish law it was forbidden to speak the name of God, Yahweh [Yhwh], except on the Day of Atonement, when it was spoken by the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.

So what is the hermeneutic of “the Kingdom of God?” In the Lord’s prayer we pray “. . . Thy Kingdom come,” which seems to imply the Kingdom is not yet. In the naïveté of our early catechesis, it seemed obvious that the Kingdom of God is heaven. When we die we go to heaven, we enter the Kingdom of God. Matthew’s reference reinforces this. The Kingdom of God is mentioned 48 times in Matthew, 17 times in Mark, 33 times in Luke, and 2 times in John. Sometimes in future tense, sometimes in present tense.

If we look back at the original preaching of John and Jesus, we may find the key to its hermeneutic. “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” This can and has been thought of as “near,” the Kingdom of God is near. In Mark (12:34) Jesus says to the rich young man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Even with this it seems that “it is near.” In Matthew (12:28) and Luke (11:20) Jesus says “the Kingdom of God has come upon you,” in Matt (21:31) Jesus tells the chief priests and the elders that “prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you,” and again in Luke (17:21) He says the Kingdom of God “is among you.” Here we are beginning to hear of the Kingdom of God as, not only near but here, in the present.

When Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God “is among you,” he puts it in a curious context: “The coming of the kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’ For behold, the kingdom of God is among you.” Many who were hearing Jesus speak of the Kingdom, including the Apostles, were thinking and hoping that He was speaking of restoring the Kingdom of David to Israel, which was the expectation of an earthly kingdom. In this verse, however, He says it “is among you,” other translations say “in your midst,” but a more important translation is that the Kingdom of God “is within you.” This takes it to a whole different level. The Kingdom cannot be observed as a visible phenomenon, as the rise of Israel as a new kingdom, rather the Kingdom is “within you.” This harkens back to the preaching of Paul that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God.” (1 Cor 6:19) The Kingdom is not an earthly phenomenon but a spiritual one, it cannot be observed but it can be felt as the presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Kingdom of God is all these things, past, present and future, but most importantly it is both “in our midst” and “within us.” Jesus, again in Luke, says “The law and the prophets lasted until John; but from then on the kingdom of God is proclaimed.” (Luke 16:16) This, I think, brings it all together. Jesus brought the Kingdom of God into our midst. He came to bring salvation, to institute the Church and the Sacraments. “From then on” the Kingdom spreads as a spiritual phenomenon in the manifestation of the Church in the world through evangelization and within us through Baptism as the Holy Spirit and Sanctifying Grace dwelling in our soul. When we pray “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for the continuance of that spiritual growth, in the world and within us; that it continues to come as Jesus brought it.

And so we pray: “Our Father who art in heaven . . .”