The road that leads us to God

10 October, 2021 28th Sunday, Year B

The kingdom of God is the heart and essence of Jesus’ teaching. References to the kingdom appear 114 times in the four gospels. According to our earliest gospel, Mark (1:15: cf. 3:24; 4:11, 26, 30), Jesus initiated his message with the proclamation, “The present era of history is at an end, the reign of God has come near; convert your mind and believe in the good news.”

In Jesus’ teachings, this kingdom of God emerges as a vision of a future direct rule by God upon earth. It was not, as is often thought today, a vision of heavenly spiritual realm, or even life after death per se; but a future physical, corporeal, historical reality.

Jesus characterised this coming reign of God as an overturning of the present world order — a new relationship between God and creation, a “rebirth” and a “regeneration” when “the first will be last and the last first” (Mk 10:31; Matt 19:30), and those who will be great in God’s reign will be those who serve (Matt 20:26-27).

For Jesus, this reign of God was both a future event and present now in and through his ministry. In Luke’s Gospel (17:20-21), the Lukan Jesus even goes so far as to say, “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ Indeed, the kingdom of God is among you” (or, in some translations, “within you”).

In the popular imagination, the Christian proclamation of salvation and redemption are commonly identified with attaining one’s heavenly reward in a “life after death”. A fresh appreciation of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom, however, suggests that redemption is as much about living as about dying.

In today’s gospel, Jesus engages in a series of discussions about the kingdom and eternal life with a stranger he meets on the road, and then, with his disciples. The gist of the two encounters is that one cannot earn eternal reward simply by obeying the commandments or doing good deeds. But one can enter the kingdom now by turning one’s life over to God’s will and trusting in the divine providence.

A good friend of mine in the priesthood often tells his congregation that heaven and hell are not “places” as such, but “situations” where one’s life option is eternalised. The Jesuit, John Powell, wrote that “gentle and caring elderly people have spent their entire lives practicing at being gentle and caring.”

As I read today’s gospel, I was reminded of Thomas Merton’s Prayer of Unknowing: “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going … and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you … I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.”

Ian J Elmer

© Majellan Media 2021