Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Director, La Salette Shrine
All three readings today contain a proclamation.
Jonah: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.“ St. Paul: “The time is running out.” Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
The kingdom of God is a major recurring theme in the New Testament, making its appearance well over fifty times. Its equivalent, “the kingdom of heaven,” occurs over thirty times. There are several other variants as well, such as: “Of his kingdom there shall be no end,” near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and, near the end of the same Gospel: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
A very famous instance, of course, is in the Our Father, where Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” We might ask ourselves two questions. 1) What does this petition in the Lord’s Prayer mean in general? 2) What does it mean to me, to each of us? (There is presumably some overlap in the two responses.)
St. Jerome, who died in the year 420, wrote of this part of the Our Father that, “Either it is a general prayer for the kingdom of the whole world that the reign of the Devil may cease; or for the kingdom in each of us that God may reign there, and that sin may not reign in our mortal body.”
St. Augustine, a contemporary of St. Jerome, wrote a letter to a woman named Proba, in which he stated: “As for our saying: ‘Your kingdom come,’ it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.”
In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, St. Augustine expanded further. “Just as the Lord Himself teaches in the Gospel that the day of judgment will take place at the very time when the gospel shall have been preached among all nations, ... here also the expression ‘Your kingdom come’ is not used in such a way as if God were not now reigning. ‘Come,’ therefore, is to be understood in the sense of manifested. For in the same way also as a light which is present is absent to the blind, and to those who shut their eyes; so the kingdom of God, though it never departs from the earth, is yet absent to those who are ignorant of it.”
At the conclusion of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it might not be inappropriate to quote the Reformer, John Calvin, who in the 1500s wrote: “The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word,—would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.”
So much for the scholars. What about us?
The response is not so different, really, but another, more personal element enters in. To pray “Thy kingdom come” could easily represent a passive stance, simply calling on God for the kingdom to come to me/us, or happen around me/us, while sitting back and waiting for God to do something.
But in fact this prayer comes back to us as an echo. It is a call for commitment, involvement, a change in our way of life. This is summed up in the other parts of Jesus’ opening proclamation.
“Repent!” he says. It’s not just for Lent any more.
“Believe in the gospel (= good news).” Really and truly believe, not just intellectually (“Yeah, that makes sense”), not just emotionally (“Jesus’ teaching is so beautiful”), but in our life, practically. I think this is what St. Paul means when he tells us to live as though things were not as they are, because the world as we know it is passing away, and we will inherit the Kingdom.
“Thy kingdom come,” applies also and especially to relationships: even with enemies, rejects, the poor, etc. No one is excluded.
If that’s the kingdom we really want, then let’s pray for it—and work for it— with all our heart.