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The Kingdom of God

General Audience — April 27, 1988

"This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1:15). Jesus Christ was sent by the Father "to preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). He was—and remains—the first messenger of the Father, the first evangelizer, as we said in last week's reflection, quoting the words of Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi. Rather Jesus not only announced the Gospel, the Good News, but he himself is the Gospel (cf. EN 7).

In the whole of his mission, by means of all that he did and taught, and finally by his cross and resurrection, he "reveals man to man" (GS 22), and opens up to him the perspectives of that happiness to which God has called and destined him from the beginning. The message of the beatitudes sums up the program of life proposed to those who would follow the divine call. It is the synthesis of the whole Gospel ethos linked to the mystery of redemption.

Christ's mission consists above all in the revelation of the Good News (Gospel) addressed to humanity. It is aimed at the human person and in this sense it can be called "anthropocentric"; but at the same time it is deeply rooted in the truth of the kingdom of God, in the announcement of his kingdom which is at hand: "The kingdom of God is at hand...believe in the Good News" (Mk 1:15).

This then is "the Gospel of the kingdom." Its reference to humanity, which can be seen in the entire mission of Christ, is rooted in a "theocentric" dimension which is accordingly called the kingdom of God. Jesus announced the Gospel of this kingdom, and at the same time he made present the kingdom of God in the whole unfolding of his mission. By it, the kingdom is born and develops already in time, as a seed inserted in human history and of the world. This realization of the kingdom comes about by means of the Gospel word and the whole earthly life of the Son of Man which was crowned in the paschal mystery with the cross and resurrection. With his "obedience unto death" (Phil 2:8), Jesus began a new phase of the economy of salvation, whose process will end when God will be "all in all" (1 Cor 15:28). Therefore the kingdom of God has truly begun to be realized in the history of humanity and of the world, even though in the earthly course of human life one continually meets and comes up against another fundamental term of the historical dialectic, namely, the "disobedience of the first Adam," who subjected himself to the "ruler of the world" (cf. Rom 5:19; Jn 14:30).

Here we touch the central problem and, as it were, the critical point of the accomplishment of the mission of Christ, Son of God, in history. This is a question to which we shall have to return at a later stage of our catechesis. Whereas in Christ the kingdom of God "is at hand," and indeed present in a definitive way in the history of humanity and of the world, yet at the same time its fulfillment continues to belong to the future. This is why Jesus commanded us to pray to the Father: "Thy kingdom come" (Mt 6:10).

We must bear this question in mind while considering Christ's Gospel as the "good news" of the kingdom of God. This was the guiding theme of the announcement of Jesus, who especially in his numerous parables spoke of God's kingdom. Particularly significant is the parable which compares the kingdom of God to a seed, which the sower plants in the earth cultivated by him (cf. Mt 13:3-9). The seed is destined "to produce fruit" by its interior power, undoubtedly, but the fruit depends also on the ground in which the seed is planted (cf. Mt 13:19-23).

On another occasion Jesus compared the kingdom of God ("the kingdom of heaven," according to Matthew) to a grain of mustard seed. This "is the least of all seeds," but when it has grown it becomes a leafy tree, and the birds of the air find refuge on its branches (cf. Mt 13:31-32). Again, he compared the growth of the kingdom of God to "leaven" which ferments the dough so that it becomes bread for human food (cf. Mt. 13:33). However, Jesus devoted another parable to the growth of the kingdom of God in this world. It is that of the good seed and the darnel weed, scattered by the enemy on the field sown with good seed (cf. Mt 13:24-30). Thus in the field of the world the good and the bad, symbolized by the good seed and the darnel, grow together "until the harvest time," that is, until the day of divine judgment. This is a further significant allusion to the eschatological perspective of human history. In any event Jesus gives us to understand that the growth of the seed which is the "word of God," is conditioned by its reception in the field of human hearts. On this depends whether it bears fruit and "yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold" (Mt 13:23), according to the dispositions and reactions of those who receive it.

In his announcement of the kingdom of God, Jesus informed us that it is not destined for one nation only, or merely for the "chosen people." Many will come "from the east and the west" and "recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (cf. Mt 8:11). Indeed, it is not a kingdom in the temporal and political sense. It is not "of this world" (cf. Jn 18:36), although it is found in the midst of "this world" and herein it must develop and grow. For this reason Jesus fled from the crowd that wished to make him king. ("Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone," Jn 6:15). On the eve of his passion, in the upper room, he prayed to his Father to grant his disciples to live according to that same understanding of the kingdom of God: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, any more than I belong to the world" (Jn 17:15-16). Again, according to Jesus' teaching and prayer, God's kingdom must grow in the hearts of the disciples "in this world"; however, it will be fulfilled in the world to come, "When the Son of Man will come in his glory...and all the nations will be assembled before him" (Mt 25:31-32). It is always in an eschatological perspective!

We can complete the notion of the kingdom of God announced by Jesus by emphasizing that it is the kingdom of the Father to whom Jesus taught us to turn in prayer in order to obtain its coming, "Thy kingdom come" (Mt 6:10; Lk 11:2). The heavenly Father in his turn offers humanity (through Christ and in Christ) the pardon of their sins and salvation. Full of love he awaits their return, as the father in the parable awaits the return of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:20-32), because God is truly "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4).

The whole gospel of conversion announced by Jesus from the beginning is situated in this light. "Repent, and believe in the Good News!" (Mk 1:15). Conversion to the Father, to the God who "is love" (1 Jn 4:16), is linked to the acceptance of love as a "new" commandment: love of God, "the greatest and the first commandment " (Mt 22:38), and love of neighbor, "like to the first" (Mt 22:39). Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another" (Jn 13:34). Here we are at the heart of the "kingdom of God" in humanity and in history. In this way the whole law, that is, the ethical heritage of the old covenant, must be fulfilled, and must reach its divine-human fullness. Jesus himself said so in the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill" (Mt 5:17).

If anything, he frees the human person from the "letter of the Law," to introduce him into its spirit, since, as St. Paul says, "the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). Fraternal love, as a reflection and participation of God's love, is therefore the animating principle of the New Law, which is as it were the constitutional basis of God's kingdom (cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 106, a 1; q. 107, aa. 1-2).

Among the parables in which Jesus used similes and allegories in his preaching on God's kingdom, there is one of a king "who prepared a wedding feast for his son" (Mt 22:2). The parable tells that many of those invited declined the invitation, finding various excuses and pretexts for their absence. The king then had his servants call in people from the streets to sit at his table. However, among those who came, not all showed themselves worthy of the invitation, because they were without the prescribed "wedding garment."

This parable of the wedding feast, compared with that of the sower sowing the seed, leads us to the same conclusion: if not all the invited guests will take their place at the wedding feast, nor all the seeds produce a harvest, this depends on the dispositions with which one responds to the invitation or receives the seed of God's word in one's heart. It depends on the way we receive Christ who is the sower, and also the king's son and the bridegroom, as he frequently presented himself: "Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?" (Mk 2:19). He asked this on one occasion when questioned in reference to the austerity of John the Baptist. He himself supplied the answer: "As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast" (Mk 2:19).

God's kingdom is therefore like a wedding feast, to which the heavenly Father invites all who are in communion of love and joy with his Son. All are called and invited to it, but each one is responsible for accepting or refusing the invitation, for his conformity or lack of conformity with the law regulating the feast.

This is the law of love. It derives from divine grace in those who welcome and observe it by living Christ's paschal mystery. It is a love which is realized in history, notwithstanding every refusal on the part of the invited, and notwithstanding their unworthiness. On the Christian there smiles the hope that love will triumph in all the "invited," precisely because the paschal measure of the bridegroom's love is the cross. Its eschatological perspective is opened in history by Christ's resurrection. Through him the Father "has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son (cf. Col 1:13). If we yield to the call and attraction of the Father, in Christ we all have redemption and eternal life.