"To you has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom..." [Mt 13:11]
THE RESULT OF THE TRINITY'S THIRST
For thirsting mankind, and the entire purpose of God's saving work in Jesus, was establishment of the kingdom, the rebuilding of our Calcutta in living temple of the Spirit, extending the communion of the Trinity into human history, and setting in the midst of our earthly city new Pool of Siloe: the pouring of the living waters into time and place.
As we know, Israel's hope and expectation throughout history focused on the arrival of the great day of restoration, ushering in of the kingdom by the messiah who would proclaim great season of grace from Yahweh and inaugurate that kingdom with signs and wonders symbolic of Israel's rebirth and renewal (the cancelling of debts, the liberation of prisoners, the healing of the sick). The classic and perhaps most beautiful of the restoration texts is Isaiah's 61st chapter, a text of supreme importance as it was the text Jesus himself chose to describe His entire mission purpose:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom to the captives, the opening of the prisons to those who are bound, and to proclaim the year of favor from the Lord... (Lk 4:18).
In the same vein Jesus proclaims His messianic identity by pointing to Himself as the fulfilment of another similar prophecy (Is 29:18): "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them..." (Lk 7:22). The convincing logic of these signs of divine compassion lies in their pointing to the promised kingdom as already present in Jesus, and in their one underlying theme of renewing, restoring, and quenching a broken and thirsting Israel. In Jesus, the compassion of the "Father of mercies" is not only revealed but enacted with power in signs and wonders that symbolize the inner wonder of forgiveness and divine life. Now as then, signs of compassion are signs of the kingdom. They are evidence that the year of favor from the Lord is here, that the new Pool of Siloe is in our midst.
The nucleus of Jesus' message and mission is the proclaiming (and inaugurating with His pasch) of this kingdom in favor of the "poor. " As we have noted, He himself proclaimed this to be His one great purpose in coming among us. All facets of human poverty are the object of the compassion of the kingdom, but the poor to whom above all the good news is addressed are those who present themselves before God recognizing their need, their emptiness, their sinfulness, their thirst; those who come before Him with empty hands in full acceptance of their spiritual poverty. And so the first condition for receiving the benefits of the kingdom is that of "receiving it as a child" (Mt 18:3), humbly yet joyfully recognizing and accepting our need for the living waters. Those who enter on their own self-sufficiency or self-made holiness (and here is the "scandal" of Jesus' glad tidings as in Luke 7:23) will be “preceded by the prostitutes and publicans,” "cast down from their thrones" and "sent away empty."
THE SECRETS OF THE KINGDOM
There seem to be four essential principles inherent in the concept of the kingdom as announced in Jesus' "glad tidings," necessary to the understanding and channeling of the kingdom through our ministry:
1) Total gratuitousness: The good news is essentially a proclamation of God's free and unmerited gifts. All of creation and all of revelation proclaim God's gratuitous love towards His creatures, a gratuitousness rooted in the trinitarian mystery of infinite intergiving among the Three. All we touch is gift, is steeped in the mystery of gratuitousness, a mystery in which we "live and move and have our being." As St. Paul reminds us, “what have you that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7). Gratuitousness is the moving force behind the outpouring of God's mercy, and through the communication of that mercy in Jesus, it becomes the underlying theme of the good news and the master key to understanding the kingdom of God and the God of the kingdom (cfr. parable of the prodigal son, Lk 15:11; of the two debtors, Lk 7:41; of the merciless servant, Mt 18:23; of the pharisee and the publican, Lk 18:14, etc.).
"The repudiation of the law of gratuitousness is the root of all social evil, there where possession, profit, injustice, violence and hatred reign” (Agresti). The acceptance of that law, the opening to gratuitous love and mercy, rather than belittling man, constitutes the only path of return to his truest dignity and freedom. Our mission it is to announce that freely given love, that good news of gratuitous mercy, and to live in the marvel, the praise, and the thanksgiving which was Israel's in the face of a "mercy that endures forever" (Ps 135). But how much more motive have we before how much greater a gift, the gift of God's own Son and Spirit: "Let him who is thirsty come, let him who wishes drink the water of life without price..." (Is 55:1 and Rev 22:17).
2) Total trust: Of the three logical responses to the law of gratuitousness at work in the kingdom, the first relates to God and is expressed in an absolute, unconditional trust. Based on the fact of the kingdom's presence and continuing the logic of the Beatitudes, Jesus continues to explicate the consequences of the kingdom in the second portion of the Sermon on the Mount: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or drink, nor about your body... your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom, and all these things shall be yours as well." (Mt 6:25-34). Our doubts, our lack of trust testify against us that we have neither understood the gospel nor the God we preach, that we "know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt 22:29). But once we do understand, then we are bound to proclaim our trust in the kingdom through our ministry, and not just in word but in our lifestyle: "Preach as you go saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'...Take no gold, nor silver, nor copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics, nor sandals, nor a staff... ”(Mt 10:7). The trust by which we "cast our cares on the Lord who cares for us” (1 Pt 5:7) frees us not only from worry and the need to provide only humanly for our ministry, but frees us to expand and channel the compassion of the kingdom by giving: "Fear not little flock, for it is your Father's desire to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms...” (Lk 12:32). Above all, trust is our personal witness to ourselves that we are in harmony with the kingdom, and is that form of love which perhaps honors God most.
3) Total love: Our response to the gratuitous renewing love of the kingdom in relation to our neighbor is a self-giving that is complete and without measure, “without counting the cost” (MT). The gratuitousness we have received is not to remain fruitless, bottled up within ourselves, but must overflow onto others: "Freely have you received, freely shall you give" (Mt 10:8). This double law of gratuitousness is the underlying principle in Jesus' "new commandment" (cfr. Mt 5:38-48). The greater, even infinite gift of the new convenant demands a greater, more complete channeling of that gift to others in charity: "Love one another even as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34). And so friendship with the Jesus of the kingdom depends on our fulfillment of "His" commandment by which, and only by which, we remain in living harmony with His own outpouring of the living waters on the: world. Only by satiating His thirst in others ("whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me” [Mt 25:40]) do we keep His commandment and "live on in His love" as He kept His Father's "commandment" of loving the world and so "remained in His love" (Jn 15:10).
"Jesus' love for His Father manifested itself in His complete dedication in carrying out His commandment, His mission. He expressed His love for the Father in loving mankind to the extreme, as the Father and in union with the Father. This dedication to man identified Him with the Father's work and kept Him in His love. Love for mankind was Jesus' response to the love the Father had shown Him” (J. Matteos). We are to continue that same expanding cycle, being freely loved by the Father in the Son and in turn allowing the Son in the Spirit to love through us. We should be able to say before the world, "As the Son has loved us, so have we loved you." And it is only by that love that we are citizens of the kingdom, for "he who lives in love lives in God, and God in him..." (1 Jn 4:16).
4) Total conversion: Our final response to the good news of the kingdom is in relation to ourselves, and involves accepting Jesus' invitation to conversion and radicality: "If you do not change and become as little children” (in total dependence on the Father's gratuitous love) you shall not enter the kingdom" (Mt 18:3). This conversion (which will be discussed in a later chapter) demands the choice of radical solutions regarding temptation or obstacles to the kingdom and radical dedication regarding service to the kingdom (turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, giving our cloak to those who would steal our tunic, etc. [cfr. Mt 5:38ff]). Celibacy is one of those free radical options elicited by the fact and nature of the kingdom. Wholehearted free and eager service to the kingdom will be the result of wholehearted, undivided love in celibacy freely embraced “for the sake of the kingdom” (cfr. Mt 19:10). Our fidelity to celibacy (celibacy of heart above all) thus becomes our fidelity to service, for only a heart that is "whole" will be able to give a service that is wholehearted and without measure. Service and celibacy are both our fidelity to Love and to its kingdom, and hence "charity comes from chastity and chastity from charity. We must have a clear vision, the vision of a pure heart, a heart that is completely unselfish. Chastity and charity go very close together because if we do not see God then our charity will be naught..." (MT). As for celibacy, so for all the radical exigencies of the kingdom that are a call to total conversion: "He who has ears, let him hear." (Mt 13:43).
MINISTERING IN THE KINGDOM
To minister in the kingdom clearly demands that one minister in conscious harmony with the spirit and principles of the kingdom. We must openly preach the beatitudes, proclaim the consequences of the kingdom, exhorting our people not to content themselves with false riches, not to feed on false dreams. But our ministry of word is to serve our "ministry of the Spirit." As St. Paul insists, “the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power" (1 Cor 4:10). Our preaching is not an end in itself but is t put people in touch with God's renewing, transforming power, a power that works miracles still, that can change their life from without and within. We must proclaim to them the "God who is c work in you" (Phil 2:13), the God who is close, who cares about them not only on Sunday but every day of their lives, the God who has "every hair of your head counted" (Lk 12:7).
Too often we preach an absent, distant God, an inoperative salvation (especially when that God and that salvation are abstract or distant to us). We often hear the challenge: “What would you do for a drug addict: counsel or pray with him? Do we have only good advice to offer, a do we believe that Jesus has the power to change that which we are not able to alter?" (Muhlen). But once again, the key is that the kingdom must first be a lived reality for us, Jesus must be Lori of my life and I His kingdom in miniature before the Lord of the kingdom can effectively touch, satiate, and renew others through me, before He can extend that kingdom through my ministry. So let us first rehear the good news, rediscover the powerful presence of the kingdom in our life and ministry, drinking "without price" from the Pool of Siloe, rejoicing in our own salvation and call, and allowing the Lord to speak to us the glad tidings that "the kingdom of God is within you..." (Mt 10:7).