Jesus said to his disciples: "At the appointed time the Promised One will come in glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, and will sit upon the royal throne with all the nations assembled below. Then the Promised One will separate them from one another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be placed on the right, the goats on the left.
"The ruler will say to those on the right, 'Come, you blest of my Abba God, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world! For I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then these just will ask, 'When did we see you hungry and feed you, or see you thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and invite you in, or clothe your nakedness? When did we see you ill or in prison and come to visit you?' The ruler will respond, 'The truth is, every time you did this for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did it for me.'
"Then the ruler will say to those on the left, 'Out of my sight, you accursed ones! Into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and the fallen angels! I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing. I was ill and in prison and you did not come to visit me.'
"They then in turn will ask, 'When did we see you hungry ad thirsty, homeless or naked, ill or in prison, and not take care of you?' The answer will come forth, 'The truth is, as often as you neglected to do this for one of the least among you, you neglected to do it for me.'
"They will go off to eternal punishment, and the just to eternal life."Homily for 24 November 2002
Leo T. Mahon
At its heart, Christianity is not so much a set of doctrines we must accept as it is an historical movement that engages each of us - one that is still in motion this last Sunday in November, this last Sunday of our church year. What kind of movement is it? Where is it going, and why? If we want to be honest, responsible, mature followers of Jesus, we have to know precisely what his message is, and what this movement he initiated is trying to accomplish. In his brief public lifetime, Jesus spent little time talking about a "church"; but he spent a whole lot of time talking about a "kingdom."
Indeed the heart of Jesus' message was the classical Hebrew dream of the "kingdom" or "reign" of God. Near the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus said, "Strive first for the kingdom of God…, and everything else will be given you as well." So just what is this kingdom of God, this kingdom of heaven that was so important to Jesus?
First of all, the phrase "kingdom of God" is perhaps the most misunderstood of Jesus' teachings. He clearly did not mean that God would literally establish a kingdom on earth like that of Louis XIV of France or even some modern monarch. This "kingdom" idea is not a political reality or governing style opposed to democracies. It is rather a particular way human beings have of relating to each other. Even the word "kingdom" is a problem today because it implies that God is male, which is not the case. God is pure spirit, neither male nor female.
Secondly, when Jesus preaches about the kingdom, he is not speaking of the afterlife, the place where good people go after death. Certainly, Jesus believed in the afterlife. He spoke of it quite often; but this isn't what Jesus was talking about when he said, "In very fact, the kingdom of God is already within you!"
To help us understand what Jesus does mean by the kingdom or the reign of God, here is an example. Let's say you are the loving parent of seven children - I guess that definitely makes you "Catholic" in these times! - and that you are dying of cancer and have only a short time to live. You gather your adult children around your bed to bid them goodbye. Perhaps one is disabled, another is very troubled - in and out of jail a number of times -- and a third is a single parent struggling to raise three children. The others have basically sound marriages and healthy children and are in fairly good financial shape.
What dying wish might you express to your seven children? I believe it might go something like this: "Please love one another! Be good to each other, especially be good to those of you who need more care. Always forgive each other. Never give up on each other. Stay together as a family. If you do this, you will be honoring me and living the way I want you to live."
Now suppose these children of yours responded positively and permanently to your dying request. Over the years they would become a wonderful family, saving themselves from discord and ruin, and inspiring other families to do the same. They would be "children of God's kingdom" right here on earth! But if your children ignored your words, refusing your dying request, the results would be tragic. Those children who needed loving care from the others would not get it and would sink into bitterness and depression. Those who were well off would become more self-centered and distant. Then all your grandchildren would grow up in a poisoned environment. Evil words and actions would quickly multiply.
Thus it is with the kingdom of God. If we human parents want good things for our loved ones, is not this also the overwhelming desire of God, who Jesus taught was most like a loving parent? It is the will of God that all of us now alive in this world live in peace as members of the human family - forgiving one another, sharing with one another, taking care of the ones who need it most, regarding all in our family of human beings as equal and precious. This is what Jesus means by announcing the kingdom of God among us, and this is why Jesus said it had already begun in his own person.
Jesus proclaimed this kingdom, lived it, and died for it. Jesus asks us to proclaim it, to live it, and if necessary even to die for it - even if it be only the little "deaths" or sacrifices we daily make for each other. Jesus promised that if we did this, we would be honoring God, and someday the entire world would be the way God would have things. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven," Jesus prayed. And then what? Then, all sheep, no goats! What a magnificent world that would be! It would be like…well, it would be like heaven! And this kingdom, this reign of God has already taken root in your hearts! It's alive there today! Kindle the flame!