Choosing the Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.The Rev. J. Barrington Bates has preached on this passage saying in part,
Jesus refers to it as the “kingdom of God,” whereas some in our day prefer less monarchal or male imagery. Some suggest that we should call this the “realm” or the “commonwealth” of God – and the Greek of the original text supports this interpretation.The full text of his sermon is online here: Choosing the Kingdom of God.
From an etymological viewpoint, the term derives from the word for “base” or “foundation.” It refers not to territory, as in the Kingdom of Siam, but to dominion, as in a semi-autonomous state that is under the sovereignty of another entity. In a way, our own Anglican Communion is an example of such a kingdom, as each of nearly forty churches – including our own Episcopal Church – is semi-autonomous. Yet each is also part of the Anglican family, and all of us under the sovereignty of God in Christ.
The kind of kingdom Jesus describes is just like that: it is a kingdom in which the members have choice, the free will to make decisions about their lives, their involvement, their direction, and their future.
And the first choice we get to make is about which kingdom to call our own. You see, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, he is talking about a kingdom inhabited by the righteous, and this kingdom is not the only kingdom.
Jesus thinks the most obvious other kingdom – Satan’s kingdom – is not worth a fig, but he does acknowledge that it exists. In Luke’s gospel, for instance, he asks, “If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand?” The kingdom of evil is real; it’s all around us all the time, and we are lured by it and sometimes swayed by it.
The hope, of course, is that God will draw all persons to himself, and that everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. That is Jesus’ prayer, and that must be our fervent and unwavering prayer as Christian people: that everyone will choose the path of righteousness.
But the persistent reality of this incarnate world is that some people make other choices. The examples are legion. In our age, we can think of Timothy McVeigh, who chose to bomb a building in Okalahoma City rather than serve the poor in the name of Jesus. Or Adolph Hitler, who sought to exterminate a people and dominate the world rather than serve as the least of these who are members of Christ’s family.
There are many, many others, of course. And these are the extreme cases. Most of the world will not plot terrorist attacks, commit murder, or seek global domination. But we nevertheless have choices to make. We can choose the path of righteousness, or that other path. And we make that choice in big ways and in little ones, over and over and over again throughout our lives. Mostly, thanks be to God, we choose the path of righteousness, we choose to enter into the kingdom of God.
Labels: Gospel reading