OUR SACRED STORIES ~ THE REIGN OF GOD: WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven
This very familiar phrase greets us as we say the Our Father, the most common and characteristic of Christian prayers. What is this kingdom that we speak of? How do we fit into it? What are we praying about when we speak of the kingdom? Normally when we use the word kingdom or reign it refers to a political unit or a place somewhere. It will have boundaries, limits to who belongs, qualifications or citizenship requirements. In other words, it will include some, but not all people. This is not what we mean when we speak of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of heaven or the reign of God. Listening to what Jesus proclaims takes us into a very different kingdom or reign.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus begins his mission with a very simple and direct proclamation: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near (Matt. 4:12-23). Whether we speak of it as the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, or the reign of God we are dealing with the same thing. It is what Jesus revealed in what he said and in what he did. And, it was about something that does not fit into our usual image of a kingdom or a reign. In other words, it does not have boundaries, limits or citizenship requirements. It is open and inclusive, totally.
The reign of God is not a place, but a presence. It is not somewhere, but everywhere. It does not include some people, but all people. In both word and action, Jesus lived this reign. He offered the Good News of the kingdom to all peoples of every age and every nation or place. And he called on every nation and person to be with him as he proclaimed and built this reign of God in his own time,... and through his Spirit in every time and place.
Everything that Jesus said and did points to this reign of God. In his care and compassion, he reached out to women and men, to adults and children, to poor and rich, to Jews, Samaritans, Romans in short to every person he encountered. No one was beyond the boundaries. He offered the healing and reconciling love of God to all. When Matthew presents Jesus saying: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near, he is declaring that in Jesus, we encounter this reign or kingdom, and this changes everything starting with ourselves.
Through Jesus and through all who live with the Spirit, this reign of God pours into our world, into the secular society of which we are a part and into the events and experiences that we live with each other. In everything we do, the Spirit gives us the power and the call to reveal God’s presence, God’s healing and reconciling love through all that we do.
We have the power to affect our world and bring the reign into our midst.The foundation of this power rests on our ongoing conversation with our God.It rests on our willingness to spend both time and energy on prayer, in word and deed, for this is where we listen and converse and act with the God who invites us.