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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 5 - "Thy Kingdom Come"

In this study we begin to actually examine the petitions of the "Our Father" themselves in depth, being that they are short but say much.  The petition "Thy kingdom come" is devoted an entire chapter in Guardini's book, and it is so because of the fact that it embodies the eschatological hope of all Christians. We always need to anticipate the coming of the Kingdom, but as we shall see, in some ways it is in us as individuals but also manifest in the Church.  However, as I will be saying throughout this study, the kingdom of God is "now but not yet," and therefore what we see within us as individuals and as a Church is only one aspect of the kingdom.

On page 37 of Guardini's text, he notes that the words "Thy kingdom come" are not an exact translation.  There is, of course, no harm in praying that way, but the problem he identifies here could be summarized in the fact that often we pray these words without understanding their significance.  A more accurate translation of this petition, Guardini notes, would be "May thy kingdom arrive," and even then, it doesn't express the full dimensions of the prayer.  As we have established, the kingdom has already come in a couple of aspects, but what we need to pray is the hope of the fulness of its coming.  The petition itself should communicate to us an expectation, a yearning.   This petition is for Christians the same desire that Jewish families pray every Shabbat when they conclude the evening meal with the petition "Next year in Jerusalem."  This expectation then is driven by a desire to be in union with our Creator, the Bridegroom, and it demands a readiness on our part for the immanency of the kingdom's coming.

To establish why Jesus included this in the prayer He taught us to pray, we need to take a look at Mark 1;15.  In the previous verses, we note that Jesus began His earthly ministry after two events - one was His baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, which we see happening in verses 9-11, and the second was His temptation in the wilderness for 40 days as recorded in verse 13.  The story of the Temptation is not given a lot of detail in Mark's Gospel, but rather is more detailed as to what happened in Luke 4 and Matthew 4.  First off, we are presented with an issue here - why on earth would Jesus have to be baptized and then tested by the devil in the wilderness??  St. Jerome gives us three reasons for the Baptism, and they are as follows:

1.  He was born a man, so that He might fulfill all justice and humility of the Law.
2. By His baptism He confirmed John's baptism.
3. By sanctifying the waters of the Jordan through the descent of the dove (the Holy Spirit), He might show the Holy Spirit's advent in the baptism of believers.  (Manlio Simonetti, ed. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Vol 1a - Matthew 1-13 {Downer's Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 2001} p. 51)

St. Chrysostom notes as well that although John was baptizing for repentance, that was not Jesus's reason for being baptized (p. 51), but rather as Chromatius notes Jesus was baptized for us, to fulfill all righteousness - after all, as Chromatius continues, isn't it only right that the command He gave us should be first demonstrated by its giver?  Jesus was trying to teach by His example what must be done for disciples to follow their Master.  Therefore, Jesus in a sense sacramentalizes the baptism of John, and in it's execution now a picture of His own death and resurrection is presented to us - in the fount of Holy Baptism, our sins are buried with Christ, and we are resurrected in a sense as a new creature, restored to that which God created us to be.  Baptism, then, is a way of fulfilling the petition "Thy kingdom come" because it brings the kingdom to us.

Then there was the Temptation - why was that needed?  Again, we consult St. Chrysostom, who notes in his Homily 13.1 that Jesus endured this for us - He was "led up by the Spirit" because He does whatever is necessary for our salvation by acting and being acted upon.  He submitted Himself to being led up there (to the wilderness) to wrestle agains the devil (Simonetti, p. 56).  How this ties into the petition "Thy kingdom come" is found for us in Ephesians 6, as we are told that we are to take up the armor of God in verses 10-17 because of what it says in verse 12 when it tells that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places," (Ephesians 6:12, NKJV).  And, the reason for that is this - "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come." (II Timothy 3;1, NKJV).  We are no longer, as Christians sealed by the font of Holy Baptism, wholly of this world - we have become part of God's kingdom now in Christ, and therefore we are in direct conflict with the "god of this world" and his kingdom, which although not equal to God in any way is still formidable.  Jesus anticipated this struggle and by example showed us how to overcome it when He was "led by the Spirit" to be tempted Himself, and He prevailed.  Now that He has prevailed over the enemy, He offers hope to us, provided we follow Him.  And this is what initiated His earthly ministry.

As we go back to Mark 1;15, we see that Jesus begins His earthly ministry by doing what - in verse 14, He came "preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God."  That Gospel had two aspects:

1.  Repentance
2. The nearness of the kingdom.

The Gospel therefore, as Guardini notes, announces to the world the nearness of the kingdom of God.  It was originally distant, but now near.  However, for one to receive it, we must be aware and perceive it - there is communicated a narrow window of opportunity to respond and an anxiety over the immanence of the kingdom's arrival.  In other words, this reminds us of the dire reality of human mortality, and that at any moment our lives could end, and therefore the time for anticipating and receiving the kingdom is now - this is why the petition is included, "Thy kingdom come," for the kingdom comes first to us imwardly (now) but will be fully realized at the Second Coming (not yet).

The kingdom was the primary message of Jesus during His earthly ministry, and no one talked more about it than He did.  The parables in particular communicate a lot about the kingdom of God, as to what it is, what it entails, etc.  The reason why Jesus spent so much time talking about the kingdom was because the kingdom of God cannot be reduced to a single concept.  First, it is something mightly, pervasive, penetrating, and operative - the kingdom operates now, especially in the vocation of Christ's Church, but its fullest expression hasn't been realized yet.  Also, the kingdom is multiform, and can only be grasped by contemplation.  Prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures help us, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to understand more of it as we grow in our own Christian life, but at the same time our thought must be able to endure the complexity of the kingdom as well as coming to the place where we can grasp its manifold richness as a whole.  The various parables aid in this, and many of them are found in Matthew 13.

Without going into the whole spectrum of the parables, I want to focus on those which Guardini, on pages 38-39 of his text, keys in on.  Jesus utilized in His pedagogy many symbolisms that His hearers were familiar with to communicate His message, and the medium of choice He used was the parable.  Here are some parables that contain the imagery of the kingdom He wished to communicate to His hearers, and even to us today:

1.  A treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44)  - The imagery portrayed in this is that the kingdom of God is a precious thing that is of more value than can be calculated, and for those that desire it, it must be obtained at any cost.
2.  The Pearl (Matthew 13:45-46) - The same message is conveyed here as it was with the treasure.
3. The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) - The kingdom looks small and insignificant, even foolish, but will one day encompass the whole earth and everything in it, permeating all and uprooting evil.  The mustard seed reminds us of other passages in Scripture as well where Jesus uses the insignificant to communicate the significant - in I Corinthians 1:21, it says "it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe," because in verse 25 we are reminded that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men," which is why in verse 27, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty."  Nothing is weaker and more absurd than a tiny mustard seed - if you have seen mustard grains, they are tiny!  Yet, from them a huge plant grows.  Also, there is the foolishness of the babe in the manger, which screwed up the expectations of royalty many people were expecting, yet that Babe saved countless souls.
4. The Leaven (Matthew 13:33) - In like fashion, Jesus uses a microscopic fungus called yeast to illustrate the kingdom, in that a microscopic bit of leaven in some wheat dough can produce enough bread to sustain a family.
5. The Fishing Net (Matthew 13:47-48) - This is one of a series of parables Jesus uses to say that there will be those who supposedly are in the kingdom but are not, but that like fish, often you net good, edible, and kosher (remember, this was a Jewish cultural context!) fish along with non-kosher fish that are unfit to eat.  The message of the kingdom appeals to many, but at the same time, many also do not understand or want to commit to Jesus's teaching and are therefore not part of the kingdom.  This is communicated in the Parable of the Sower as well, when if you will recall in Matthew 13:3-9 that the "seed" (message of the Gospel) is received by some but not by others, but in some it takes deeper root, while in others when the trials of life beat down, they easily abandon the kingdom.  It is also seen in the latter-day Church too, as we note in I Timothy 4 about the "great apostasy" that is to come - many will fall away, it says, because deceptive spirits will deceive them (this correlates with the Parable of the Sower too - those that "fall away" are like the seed Jesus said was plucked up by birds - birds are always a classic imagery in this case for evil spirits).  However, unless we have a sharp sense of discernment, only when the net is gathered (a picture of the Last Judgement) will the bad be separated from the good.
6. The Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) - This parable bears the same message as both the Parable of the Sower, and the Parable of the Fishing Net.  It communicates one of a series of contrasting images (good fish/bad fish, sheep/goats, etc.) that tell us that there will be people in the kingdom of God who are not of God, and likewise, only a discerning eye and the Last Judgement will sort them out.

These images that Jesus gives in the parables tell us that the kingdom is a complex thing - it is insignficant by appearance, yet great, for one.  It is also more valuable than anything this earth can offer.  And, there are people who will masquerade as being part of the kingdom, but they are in reality not - they are in a sense "illegal aliens" because they don't know God and haven't received the grace Jesus died for us to have.  But, still, the kingdom is beyond a brief statement of description, and Guardini spends much of the chapter talking about this as well.

What the kingdom means first of all is that God rules, directly and powerfully.  And, God, in the freedom of His love, has forgiven sin and allowed us to choose to participate in it - we become sanctified by the holiness of Christ only, something that belongs entirely to God alone.  It also means that His truth illumines the mind, meaning we no longer have to waste energy in a futile search for it - it is an openly shining plenitude, without patchiness or ambiguity.  God is therefore felt in his holiness, as well as perceived in his majesty.  By choosing to participate in the kingdom, therefore, man has surrendered his freedom to God and God now reigns with man's joyful consent.  With man's joyful submission to God, he can now experience the intimacy and preciousness of the things of God - this ineffable bliss is a sweet taste to the heart and is felt at the depth of man's being.   It also means that God in his Trinitarian wholeness as our Father, our Brother, and our Friend, is now near to us - He is in the depths of our spirit and at the core of our hearts.  As a result, love (as a fruit of the Holy Spirit cultivated in us - see Galatians 4) rules now perceptively in our goings and comings and the whole of our existence is transformed by it.  And, it means that God now becaome distinct to us in His reality in fulness in two ways.  First, He rules in all things.  Second, we as believers are now in Him, and free to be what God intended and created us for.  In the coming of Jesus, the kingdom was so near as a matter of fact that it was ready to burst forth everywhere, to draw all things to Himself and the freedom now of our community with God.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI talks about this as well when he wrote that "the kingdom of Jesus, Son of David, knows no end because in Him God himself is reigning, in him God's kingdom erupts into this world." (Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth - The Infancy Narratives.  New York:  Image, 2012. p. 33).    Therefore, Jesus is the kingdom of God in a sense manifested, and by reigning on the throne of our hearts He brings the kingdom within us, as He promised Himself when He declared that "for indeed, the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:21).

So, what is the message of the kingdom then, that we are to anticipate and pray for to come?  First, we note that the kingdom of God is the crux of Jesus's earthly ministry, and entailed two parts according to Mark 1;15.  First, we are urged to repent ('do penance"), turn away from our depravation and toward God who calls out to us.  Secondly, the nearness of the kingdom of God - Isaiah prophesied that "when the time was fulfilled" the kingdom would come, and indeed when Jesus came, He fulfilled Isaiah's words but not in the way in which many expected. We as individuals are appointed a time to which we are invited to respond to the call that we are to repent and receive the kingdom of God that is at hand even now, and in a response of "yes" we receive that kingdom within us, thus in a sense "the time is fulfilled" on a personal level.  This means then something very important - the kingdom is in a continual state of "coming,' or in the vernacular, it is "now but not yet."  And, that is what we now want to focus on.

The kingdom of God is directed to us both as individuals and communally (via the Church).  However, it must be accepted, and will not force its arrival.  For one, it can only come in freedom, in that man must open himself to it.  To do so, one must first believe, and then prepare himself.  Then, it must be strained toward with eternal longing.  Further, one must be courageous with the kingdom of God and let it in - this is why we are admonished in Hebrews 4:16 to "come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need."  It also requires a surrender of self too - rebellion and resistance drives the kingdom of God away, which is why we are admonished in Ephesians 4;30 to "not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."  The paradox here is that if we continue to rebel and resist, the kingdom of God will be driven away, and by our own action we render the power of God powerless by giving place to sin and rebellion.

Therefore, we are to pray to Him that His kingdom may come, and when the kingdom is joyfully welcomed and received by us, St. Francis notes that we become in a special way an interpreter of the Gospel by our life being transformed by it.  And, it streams continually in us as we open ourselves to it.  How do we do that?  First, by prayer and personal devotion.  Second, by full participation in the sacramental life of the Church - the sacraments nourish us.  Therefore, if we actively live out our faith - James 2:26 reminds us that "faith without works is dead," and although works are not salvific, they do make our faith active and vibrant - the kingdom will indeed be manifested in us.  So, when we pray "thy Kingdom come," we do so with the desire that the kingdom comes in us, as well as being an eschatological hope and reality.