Jesus himself creates some confusion, if you listen closely and note the contradiction. At times he speaks of the kingdom—that place and time in which God’s justice and mercy combine to create the life we are meant to receive—as something yet to come in the, perhaps distant, future:
And then there are times when he speaks as though the kingdom were already here, and we are just too slow to see it:
Truth is, Christ chooses the contradiction. He wants it both ways. The kingdom is yet to come, and in a manner quite undeniable. Yet it’s seeding within our hearts. There, its presence should already be seen.
The rich man amid his grain bins, surprised by death, is more than a warning about greed. It’s a parable about kingdom consciousness. Which is what?
It’s the awareness of three kingdoms, or, better, the kingdom in three times and places: within, without and whither. Kingdom consciousness is living in this world with our eyes fixed upon the whither, the one yet to come. It is acknowledging the painful gap between what Christ promised and what we have yet attained. To forget the whither, the kingdom to come, is to make ourselves at home in the world. The kingdom within us acts as a leaven without. It challenges and changes the world in which we live.
The three kingdoms—the whither, the within, and the without—are inseparable. If we don’t live, trying to ready this world for the one to come, the kingdom within us dies, and, if we don’t nurture the kingdom restlessness, which Christ planted within us, we soon find ourselves settling in among our grain bins, doing nothing to ready the world for the kingdom.
The world isn’t changed by placards or pews alone. The “within” and “without” depend upon each other. Prayer without social consciousness whispers in the wind. A social agenda without prayer spits into it. Neither can thrive without a longing for the whither, for what is to come.
This past Tuesday morning, right after the nine o’clock Mass, in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, a working-class town in Normandy, the kingdom of God broke into our world. Two armed men burst into the parish church, shouting ISIS slogans. When Father Jacques Hamel, the assistant pastor, 85, refused to, or couldn’t, kneel before them, they slit his throat and briefly took others hostage until the police arrived.
The New York Times reports that Father Hamel’s people loved him because he kept on celebrating sacraments and visiting the faithful, long after he could have retired.
This past Tuesday morning, the three kingdoms briefly aligned, in bitterness and in blessing. Christ’s kingdom found Father Jacques at Mass. Celebrating Eucharist is an act of kingdom consciousness, a living within the whither. It is essential to the Christian way of life. When we revel in the Word of God and the sacramental presence of Christ, the kingdom of God grows within us. From there, it break outs, into the world.
In the world’s eyes we accomplish nothing at Eucharist, and we dare not try. Liturgy is a presence, not a program. Turn liturgy into pedagogy, and it quickly becomes little more than propaganda.
Dominique Lebrun, the Archbishop of Rouen, wrote in response to the death of Father Jacques, his cleric, “L’Eglise catholique ne peut prendre d’autres armes que la prière et la fraternité entre les hommes.” The Catholic Church can take no arms other than prayer and the fraternity of peoples.
What is within us, and what is to come, can change the world, but we mustn’t take kingdom consciousness for granted. We can’t presume that it is strongly seeded within our hearts. Even the Lord Jesus withdrew each day for prayer. How right that, when Christ came for him, old Father Jacques was found, just having finished another recitation of the kingdom and its promises.
Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of learning. That’s true of the kingdom as well. Christ commanded us: “Do this in memory of me” because, when he changes us, he changes the world.
Ecclesiasticus 1: 2, 2: 21-23 Colossians 3: 1-5, 9-11 Luke 12: 13-21