Thursday, 5 July 2018

KINGDOM OF GOD a series of quotations arranged by Clare McArdle

On Thursday the 5th of July Clare McArdle led the Carmelite Spiritual Learning Circle in a discussion about the Kingdom of God. Here are the notes used during the seminar.

Questions to guide us.
1.      What does the ‘Kingdom of God” and ‘Heaven’ mean to you?
2.      Can it be possible to have a precise understanding of such notions?
3.      In what ways can the “Kingdom of God” come about “on earth as it is in heaven”?
4.      How can I apply this notion to my daily life?


Via the parables

Thomas Keating – “The parables,…, are like handles on the mystery of the kingdom, pointers suggesting both what it is and what it is not.  We cannot fully understand the kingdom because it is a mystery that transcends any possibility of being contained in a concept.  But by rotating the wisdom of Jesus’ sayings in our mind’s eye and with the help of the parables, we can at least get a glimpse of it.” (p 39)

Keating identifies a pattern that is common in the parables namely: “shock value, an undermining of the grandiose ideas about the kingdom, and identification of the kingdom with the unclean, the marginalized, and the outcasts of society”. (63)

“The word parable means ‘laid aside.’  So the kingdom of God is known by laying it beside certain symbols or signs.  Unlike a simile, the parable actually contains  the truth revealed by the comparison.  Hence the parables are not just comparisons or something like something else.  The kingdom really is the way that Jesus presents it.”(75)

Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) tells us that the Kingdom of God knows “no fixed social, ethnic, racial, nationalistic, economic, or religious boundaries.” (20) “The Samaritan in the parable was not rewarded.  The kingdom of God is manifested in showing love whether or not it is accepted or its compassion appreciated.  Divine love is its own reward.  It is also irresistible.  It keeps flowing until it finds someone who will receive it.” (19) “Our unquestioned values are profoundly undermined.  We are forced to acknowledge the goodness of those we detest or distrust – perhaps even to accept compassionate service from them.  The kingdom of God seeks to enter our lives just as they are.” (20)

Parable of the Publican (tax collector) and the Pharisee. (Luke 18:10-14a) reinforces the central themes of the parable of the good Samaritan. To understand the radical nature of this parable and the previous one is to understand the social map of the times.  The Pharisee was conforming to the social role as the insider of the Temple and the tax collector as an outsider was required to pray apart from the Pharisee. Keating holds that the main point of the parable is the undermining of the current social order- “the kingdom of God is no longer to be found in the temple.  The holy is outside and the unholy may be inside.  The activity of the kingdom of God has moved from the sacred precinct of the temple to the profane arena of the secular world”. (24)

Parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)  “This parable takes place in the context of a society where everyone was assigned a fixed place in the class structure” (26).  What emerges is that the primary concern of the father is to bring his two sons together in love.  “The father communicates unconditional love to his two sons so that they in turn may show mercy to each other…[god] seeks the unity of the human family, the removal of divisions and barriers, and the triumph of compassion by manifesting the maternal values symbolized in that culture by nourishment and overflowing affection.   The parable must have left the Jewish audience with their mouths open in astonishment.  What they thought was their major claim to God’s protection and love, his free election of them as his chosen people, is profoundly undermined by this parable.  The fact is that everyone is chosen.  This includes both public sinners, who know that they have offended God, and the self-righteous who deny their complicity in sin.” (30)

Parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-26) “The nature of the kingdom of God is that it has to be shared….To be in the kingdom is to participate in God’s solidarity with the poor by sharing with them the good things that have been given to us.  In the New Testament the great sin is to be deaf to the cry of the poor whether that cry springs from emotional, material, or spiritual need.  Although we cannot help but partake in some degree in social injustice because we live in this world, we must constantly reach out in concrete and practical ways to those in need.  Divine love is not a feeling, but a choice.  It is to show mercy.” (35)

Parable of the mustard seed (Luke 13:18-19) “The thrust of the parables is to subvert the distorted myths in which people live their lives. “(36)  In Jesus’ time, the mythical vision of Israel was as God’s chosen people and the “cultural symbol for this myth was the great cedar of Lebanon.” (37) “The kingdom of God as a nation would be the greatest of all nations just as the great cedar of Lebanon was the greatest of all trees.” (37)But the mustard just becomes a bush. The “parable implies that if we accept the God of everyday life, we can find God in everyday life….The kingdom is available right now.” (39) “The kingdom is manifested in ordinary daily life and how we live it.  If [we accept the God of everyday life] then we can enjoy the kingdom here and now without having to wait for an apocalypse or someone to deliver us from our difficulties.” (41) Even so Keating says the parable was too much of a myth changer and some versions of this parable have the mustard seed turning into a mighty tree. (40)

Parable of the workmen in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-15) “The householder’s behavior seems unjust…This parable raises questions about the standard of justice in the kingdom of God.” (71)  “Ordinary standards of justice cannot explain how the kingdom works….Over centuries a secular standard of values crept into Christian teaching in the form of an elaborate system of earning heavenly rewards….How do we get into the kingdom if it is not something that we can earn?  We enter the kingdom not by meriting but by consenting to the invitation.”(72)  “Jesus in this parable seems to be trying to justify his practice of reaching out to outcasts and sinners.  Their behavior does not merit anything, but their need is great.  It is their need that he, as God’s son, is responding to….On the spiritual journey we need to be alert to our secret motivation.  Although self-knowledge does not cure the disease, at least it disposes us to work toward healing, because it shows us the harm we are doing to ourselves and to others. In trying to face the dark side of our personalities, mixed motivation, and the damage done to us in early childhood, our attitude toward our very real limitations is more important than their healing. 
The bottom line of this teaching is that the kingdom is not based on human standards of justice and equity but on the infinite mercy of God whose principal need is to respond to the desperate state of the human condition.” (73-74)

Parable of the hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44) “The man in the parable in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.  Once it is safely concealed in the field, he cannot dig it up again without people wondering how he got it.  Though he has the treasure, he is more impoverished than before, because he has now sold all his other possessions.  He winds up with an enormous treasure that he cannot do anything with.  The parable alerts us to the fact that the kingdom, although it is given us as sheer gift, is not given to us just for our personal benefit.  To share this gift with others is an essential part of receiving it.”(76-77).....When the spiritual journey becomes an inner treasure, we want to give more time to prayer, silence, and solitude.  We do not want to be disturbed by the cares of the world.  There is nothing wrong with this desire in due proportion but to try to maintain our own peace of mind for selfish reasons such as avoiding the problems of others is to fail to understand the chief responsibility of the kingdom. “ (79)

Via the statements of Jesus as reported in the gospels

Keating (pp85ff) takes the following insights from the reported meeting of Pilate and Jesus (John 18:34-38) when Jesus responds to Pilate’s repeated questions “Are you the King of the Jews?” saying “You say that I am a king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice”.  Jesus “makes it clear that his kingdom has nothing to do with sovereignty, power, or domination.  It is just the opposite.” (p 85) “The truth to which this kingdom points is that the God of the universe, the ultimate reality, is the Father of infinite compassion and concern for every living thing. …The kingdom to which Jesus bears witness addresses the human condition exactly where it is and says in effect, “it’s okay to be weak broken, even sinful, a long as you accept yourselves and your condition for the love of God”.

Via other passages in the scriptures

Christ appears before Pilate (see John18:34-38). Pilate asks whether Jesus is “King of the Jews”.  Jesus replies “My kingdom is not from this world”….”You say that I am king.  For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”   Jesus refers to a kingdom or a community with a very different “spirit and motivation from those of the kingdoms of this world.”  (Keating p 86) “The truth to which this kingdom points is that the God of the universe, the ultimate reality, is the Father of infinite compassion and concern for every living things.  This is a revolutionary idea for human beings.  Most people live in situations that are more or less oppressive and in varying degrees of interior turmoil, because they do not know how to deal with their frustration.  Our false self – the apparatus for self-centered projects for happiness – places us in a continuous double bind.” …We ask “Why doesn’t [this God] defend me and provide for me and others better than he does? Isn’t this what kings and dictators are for?” [but] “kings and dictators only offer an illusion of security, a vain hope that hides the basic uneasiness of everyday life, which is that we are not secure not loved as we would like, and not in complete control of anything including our lives and our deaths.”(Keating p 86)

“Certainly the kingdom, in all its modes of expression, tends towards its final and perfect form, which lies behind the last day of this earthly period, just as all the spiritual and corporeal manifestations of a child are expressions of his growth, and contribute to his attaining full human maturity.” (Winklhofer p 18)

“The truth about the universe, Christian theology contends, is that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  Something new is about to happen, indeed is happening and will one day have happened in its fullness.  The fact that the something new is happening now precludes the posture of passively waiting for the future.  It also means… that there is a purposive continuity in history.” …”Panneneberg’s intention must be distinguished from any idea of the future that places the Kingdom as a static entity somewhere ahead of us, or from any suggestion that the generic power is moving from the past through the present to the Kingdom. The coming Kingdom is the overarching reality that informs our understanding of existence.” (Neuhaus p 25) 

Pannenberg – to understand the Kingdom requires us to reverse the “connection between present and future, giving priority to the future. This is strange for contemporary thought [the assumption of which is that past and present are the cause of the future].  “…God’s Kingdom does not lie in the distant future but is imminent.  Thus, the present is not independent from that future.  Rather does the future have an imperative claim upon the present, alerting all men to the urgency and exclusiveness of seeking first the Kingdom of God.  As this message is proclaimed and accepted, God’s rule is present and we can even now glimpse his future glory.” (p 54)

2.         Is a precise understanding possible?

“Theology of reason, according to Pannenberg, is something quite different from the arid rationalisms of the past. ….[it] poses no threat to Christian piety.  To be reasonable means to be open to those aspects of reality which do not conform to our conceptual processes…A reasonable man..stands in fearful awe before the mystery of existence, before the power of the future that will in its coming resolve the contradictions of experience…. …If the most fundamental truth about existence is the imminence of the rule of God, from which all reality is derived and to which all hopes point, then it is perfectly reasonable that the thing to do is to commit oneself totally to the coming Kingdom.  He who tries to save his life by holding back from trusting the future that Jesus proclaims will surely lose his life.  This is the eminent rationality of discipleship.” (Neuhaus on Pannenberg p 45)  “Pannenberg brings together the evidence that he thinks supports a very high degree of probability for the truth of Jesus’ message.  This is what historical study and reason can provide, a high degree of probability.”  “There is no absolute certitude, no irrefutable proof”. (Neuhaus on Pannenberg p 46)

Bourgeault – “…Jesus, the living master, is real, alive, intimately and vibrantly enfolding you right now.  He is more present, in fact, than even your breath and your heartbeat.  But to really know this presence you need to tune in on a different wavelength: to shift from your usual binary operating system to the heart frequency where the Jesus connection broadcasts.  Wisdom Christianity is practice-driven.  When you do the practices that nurture the heart, you will sense this connection as a living bond.” (p 136-137)

Treston – There are many different ways of knowing – cognitive, experiential and revealed knowing. (p 41-42)  “Revelation is really a series of conversations between God and us via various stories….Revelation invites people towards a transformation of consciousness which not only acquires knowledge about God but experiences God as divine love.” (Treston p 43)

How do we apply this idea in our daily lives?

“…the Lord’s prayer, which Gregory of Nyssa recommends as a way to ‘remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life.  We can, each of us, only call the present time our own…Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow’” ( Norris p 260)

Rowan Williams – “Scholars of the New Testament have been talking for generations about the tension in the Bible between the already and the not yet. …Yet what the New Testament actually says, again and again, is that we do not and cannot know the date of the final end, and that therefore we should live our lives as if the end might be at any moment – and at the same time, live our lives with complete responsibility for the here and now.” (p 97)  “We have to live in the light of the end – not gloomily and fearfully, but trying to bring ourselves relentlessly out of the shadows where we hide from God and ourselves and each other.” (p 99)

Pannenberg discusses how the Kingdom of God provides a foundation for ethics, that can be applied socially and personally.   (see chp 3)

Pannenberg – “…the Kingdom of God defines the ultimate horizon for all ethical statements.”(p 111)  Throughout the ages philosophers have tried to establish a foundation to support universal ethical principles including happiness, virtue of the classical philosophers to principles based on reason (Kant). “…the quest for the good is bent back upon man himself.  The good becomes a projection of his own self-realization”. (Pannenberg p 114)

 Pannenberg argues that God must be thought of as relating to the world both as its creator and as its future; not as some static transcendent being separated from the world.  As such we can take the idea of the good as essentially related to present man and his world because the good is concerned with the future of this man and his world. (Pannenberg p 111-112)

“…the striving for God as the ultimate good beyond the world is turned into concern for the world. This corresponds with God’s intention for the transformation of the world through his rule….Here we see the exciting relevance of Jesus’ message about the power of God’s future upon the present.  The most constructive consequence of this conversion to the world is the Christian idea of love that affirms the present world in transforming it. “(p 112)   “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (I John 4:16). (Pannenberg p 112)

“…to love God can only mean to anticipate in the dynamics of his love for this world and for this mankind.” (Pannenberg p 112)   Love of God and love of others are not two different types of love, according to Pannenberg, for love of others is “participation in God’s love; that is to say, love for fellowmen is participating in the coming Kingdom of God.” (p 113)

“If we participate in the love of God, we participate in the dynamics that make for unity, especially for the unity by which mankind is joined in the common quest for the highest good.  And the highest good for men, whether they know it or not, is the future of God’s Kingdom.  If a particular action springs from the spirit of creative love and contributes to individual and social integration, unity, and peace, then that particular action expresses the spirit of God’s Kingdom.  In pursuing such actions, the life of the individual will be integrated into personal identity and integrity through membership in a communion which is itself related to larger communities and is finally related to the whole of mankind.” (Panenberg p 118)

“To relate to somebody as a person is no routine thing but an act of faith.” (Pannenberg p 118)  “To accept somebody as a person means conceding to him an ultimate equality with myself in the human vocation.  The recognition of equality demands expression in opportunities for each person to achieve a life-style of human dignity, to develop individual gifts, to make his distinctive contribution to his own group and, beyond that, to mankind. “ (Pannenberg pp 119-120)

Implications for our political life or as Pannenberg calls it  the Commonweal.(p 122ff)
Pannenberg asserts that the Kingdom of God “is manifest in the common good”.  But a commonweal can only survive in a society “where a universal spirit unites the individuals and leads them beyond their narrow self-interests.  And …this cannot be achieved unless such a people knows to live in peace with the rest of the world.” (p 123)

While Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God is “addressed to each individual and calls for personal decision…the social dimension is far from lost.  The very decision of the individual points to a communal hope….The personal decision cannot be separated from the communal promise of God’s love manifest in the peace and justice that is to exist within a given society and is to order relationships among societies.” (p 124)


Bourgeault, Cynthia (2008)    The wisdom Jesus: transforming heart and mind – a new perspective on Christ and His message.  Boston & London; Shambhala.  (248.341 B772W)

Keating, Thomas (1993)         The Kingdom of God is like… New York; The Crossroad Publishing Company.  (226.8 K25)

Norris, Kathleen (2008)          Acedia & me: a marriage, monks, and a writer’s life. London: Riverhead Books. (248.505 N856A)

Pannenberg, Wolfhart (1969) Theology and the Kingdom of God.  Includes a profile of Pannenberg by Richard John Neuhaus.  Philadelphia; The Westminster Press.  ( 217.78 P194 TK)

Treston, Kevin (2010) A modern credo: telling the Christ story within the context of creation. Mulgrave, Vic; John Garratt Publishing (247.384 T799MC)

Williams, Rowan (2007)         Tokens of trust: an introduction to Christian belief. Norwich; Canterbury Press.  (247.98 WIL TT)

Winklhofer, Alois (1962)        The coming of His kingdom: a theology of the last things.  Freiburg, Edinburgh-London: Herder ,Nelson.  (237 W775)

Rainer Maria Rilke

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand. [3]

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926).translated from German by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

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