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17th Sunday of Ordinary Time

What is the Kingdom of God?  We hear this term so often it can lose its meaning, assuming we had any clear understanding of this idea to begin with.  The “Kingdom” is what we’ve been promised.  The “Kingdom” is what we struggle to obtain.  The “Kingdom” is why we follow Christ.  But ask your average Catholic what the Kingdom of God is, and you’re likely to get many different answers.  Our readings this week help us to wrap our minds around what the Kingdom really means…

1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Psalm: 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52 (shorter version Matt 13:44-46)

Our first reading comes from the 1st Book of Kings.  King David has died, passing his crown to his son, Solomon.  In this Sunday’s passage, the Lord appears to the young king in a dream, and asks Solomon what he, the Lord, can give him.  Solomon responds humbly, addressing himself as the Lord’s servant, and asks for “an understanding heart.”  God, recognizing that he could have asked for many other things, is pleased with his answer and grants his request.  What does this have to do with the Kingdom of God?  It gives us an important insight into what God expects of us… how his Kingdom operates.  Not by seeking riches for ourselves, not by seeking the lives of our enemies, but by seeking wisdom and understanding.  To take our place as servants, not masters… for there is only one master, the Lord God.  It is his command we follow, a sentiment echoed by our Psalm as we sing, “Lord, I love our commands.”

Our Gospel from Matthew continues where the long form of our Gospel from last week leaves off.  Jesus, having told his disciples several parables, now uses some short parables to explain the Kingdom of Heaven.  He explains that the Kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field.  A person finds this treasure, sells all he has, buys the field and reburies the treasure (burying treasure being something of a common practice in ancient Israel).  He continues telling them that the Kingdom is like a pearl of great value where the merchant sells all he has to buy it.  In these two stories, Jesus equates the Kingdom as something so valuable anyone who seeks it must be willing to go “all in” to obtain it.  This same idea is expressed later in chapter 19 of Matthew when the rich man asks Jesus what he needs to do to gain eternal life, and Jesus tells him to sell everything he owns, give it to the poor, and then come follow him.  Following Jesus, living the Christian life, cannot be done part-time.  Why?  Jesus answers that with his next parable in our Gospel.  In the parable Jesus equates the Kingdom to a fishing net.  It captures every kind of fish, but when it’s hauled ashore, the fishermen must sort through the catch… good fish go into buckets while the bad fish is thrown away.  The sentiment is similar to last week’s gospel parable about the weeds in the wheat.  We don’t want to be the weeds that are burned.  We don’t want to be the bad fish that are thrown away.  The Kingdom is there for the taking (and God our Father remains waiting to forgive us our transgressions), but it takes a full commitment.

Our second reading continues our study of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans.  Although our short passage for this week’s study doesn’t relate directly to our first reading and the Gospel, it does give us the keys to the Kingdom… Love.  The keys to the Kingdom are not found by following the letter of The Law, nor are they found through faith or good works alone.  Above all is love (as Paul reminds us in his 1st letter to the Corinthians), and that love freely given to God and our neighbors is what opens the gates of the Kingdom

Final thoughts:
Perhaps the best way to understand the Kingdom of God is to understand that it’s not a place, but rather a state of mind.  This is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts for the Apostles to understand.  Even at the moment of the Ascension (Acts 1:6) the Apostles are shown asking Jesus if he’s now going to restore the Kingdom.  The Apostles are still thinking that this new Kingdom will be the restoration of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Israel as it was under King David.  But that’s not what Jesus means.  Jesus isn’t thinking of temporal power, he’s referring to spiritual power.  Empires rise and fall.  The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, and now for the Apostles it’s the Romans.  Jesus is teaching us that the governance of the land needn’t be tied with having a relationship with God.  One can spread the good news of the Gospel without taking over a city or a kingdom.  Living according to how Christ taught us, by loving God and loving our neighbors, will eventually convert the hearts and minds of those around us.  This is how we bring the Kingdom of God… not by weapons, not by force, but by our words and our good works.

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