The Kingdom of God
Week of 5 Easter, Friday
Ps. 106:1–18; Ps. 106:19–48; Wisdom 16:15–17:1; Rom. 14:13–23; Luke 8:40–56
For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:17–19, NRSV)
That “kingdom of God” concept in the New Testament is a slippery thing to get a grasp on. In the passage quoted above, Paul points out that it’s not based on dietary laws, but on “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Sorry, Church of Christ folks…some of your squeamishness on alcohol is not supported by Scripture.) Meanwhile, how does Jesus describe the kingdom of God?
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26–29, NRSV)
Or how about this?
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30–32, NRSV)
Of course, Jesus indulged in a bit of hyperbole when he called the mustard shrub the “greatest of all shrubs,” but I think it’s the difference in scale between tiny seed and large bush that’s the point. The point is still valid.
Then there’s this statement from Mark 10:15… “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” He doesn’t exactly tell us what the kingdom of God is, but uses the beautiful image of children’s ability to grasp what adults may fail to understand.
Here’s a longer passage, one which I see as the core of the Gospels, and Jesus specifically gives a hint about the kingdom of God at the end of it:
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ — this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question. (Mark 12:28–34, NRSV)
Apparently, this blew people’s minds so much, no one would ask him anything after that speech!
Another thing I find interesting about how Jesus (and later Paul) talk of the “kingdom of God” is that they seem to talk about it as if it’s already here, but when Jesus prays the Lord’s prayer, he says “thy kingdom come,” as if it may not be here just yet. So, throughout the history of the church, we pray for God’s kingdom to come, and yet we realize that we are building that kingdom just a little every day.
Our Father in heaven, let us keep your name holy. Let your kingdom come to us here on earth, as it already exists in heaven. Give us sustenance each day, and forgive us for the wrong we have done, as we forgive our brothers and sisters for the wrongs they have done to us. And don’t let us wander into temptation, but deliver us from all evil. Amen. [my own paraphrase]