July 2007 - Volume 11, Issue 12

Kingdom Of God As A Personal Experience

Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of a bright orange sun against an orange and red skyFrom the beginning of civilization to the present, people have dreamed of and looked forward to an ideal society. The details of that hope have varied with time and place. But the overall expectation has been essentially the same. It will be a society based upon justice and righteousness, where people live together in peace and harmony.

The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus shared this hope. The one magnificent obsession of his life was the kingdom of god. It was the constant theme of his teaching and the unchanging goal of his work. With an eager heart, he anticipated a day when God's will would be known and obeyed, and all human relationships would be governed by the law of love.

Jesus announced the imminent appearance of the kingdom. He said, "This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand. Reform your lives and believe the good news."

Those words are a brief summary of the first sermon that Jesus ever preached and it was great with expectation. Taken at face value, it seemed to suggest that the ideal society would appear soon. We know, of course, that this did not happen.

The world in which Jesus died was every bit as evil and violent as is the world we live in today. Yet he never doubted that God's kingdom would come. He taught his disciples to pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven." But it did not happen during their lifetime either, and it has not happened since.

One wonders sometimes about the significance of this idealistic hope. What is the use of it all? Does it make any sense to bravely pursue a goal that I never reached, to wait for a kingdom that never comes?

That seems a strange thing for people to do, century after century. But consider the alternative. Suppose this concept of an ideal society had never entered the world. Picture the human race, passively content with war and poverty and injustice. Suppose the prophets and dreamers and poets had never troubled the human conscience with visions of equality, justice and peace. Would we be willing to live in that kind of world? And more sobering yet, would we be willing to give that kind of world to our children and our children's children?

This hope that we call the kingdom of God is more than just a beautiful dream. It is also a creative force. The sermon that Jesus preached was not totally in vain. It hardly needs to be said that his full vision was not realized. But a few people believed his message and took it to heart. They were fishermen, two sets of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John. Jesus invited them to join his cause and they accepted the challenge. From that day forward, their lives were never the same. For them, the kingdom of God became a reality - not an ideal society, but a personal experience.

It can be the same for you and me. We do not have to wait until a new order of justice and peace is established in the world. That could be a long wait. If everyone should decide to do that, how would the kingdom of God ever come at all?

Would we just wake up one morning and find it waiting for us? No great thing has ever happened that way. A familiar proverb says, "All things come to those who wait." That proverb is true in one sense and one sense only. Patience is a necessary part of progress. But patience alone has never accomplished anything.

The sermon that Jesus preached had two parts. The first was annunciation, "This is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand." The second is exhortation, "Reform your lives and believe the good news." That calls for a personal response on your part and mine. We are charged with the responsibility of cleaning up our own lives and believing the good news of the kingdom.

Photo of a blue sky with puffy white cloudsTo truly believe it is to act upon it, that is to say, we will start living like citizens of God's kingdom. His law of love will become the ruling principle of our lives.

Admittedly, this is not easy to do. It is not even an easy thought to think. To live by the law of love in a world ruled by selfishness and greed is a dangerous and difficult thing to do. The cross of Christ is a vivid reminder of that reality. He was out of step with the world of his time. That is why he was killed. His loyalty to God's kingdom cost him his life. But he would tell us that it was more than worth the price that he paid.

To enter the kingdom of God as a personal experience is not only an awesome undertaking, but also a glorious adventure. It offers some privileges that those who refuse to enter can never know.

Jesus said, "The reign of God is at hand." Anyone who has the courage can start living in that kingdom now.