Throwback Thursday: Seek First the Kingdom
We read in the Gospels how Jesus urges his listeners to not be anxious about worldly concerns, but to “seek first the kingdom of God” and God in his providence will provide the things we need (Matthew 6:25-33). “Do not be afraid any longer,” he says, “for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
John the Baptist heralded the coming of this kingdom (Matthew 3:2) and Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of his public life, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Throughout his ministry, in fact, the Lord would preach the Good News of the kingdom.
It is clear from what is recorded in the New Testament that the announcement of the kingdom was not intended to be for one generation alone. So what is this “kingdom” that Jesus says should be a priority in our lives? Why did I think the kingdom so important that I included it in my episcopal motto, “Thy Kingdom Come,” as well as in the title of this blog, “Seek First the Kingdom”? Where is this kingdom? What are its distinguishing characteristics?
In our day, the kingdom is often misunderstood and misconstrued. Some think of it as a metaphor – a symbol of what the world would be like if more people would be nice to one another. People should be nice to one another, but God’s kingdom is not reducible to niceness. Furthermore, when Jesus proclaimed that the kingdom is at hand, he was not simply speaking symbolically. It is a living reality.
To help us grasp the mystery of God’s kingdom, Jesus spoke in parables and worked miracles to confirm the truth of what he had to say. For example, he says that the kingdom is like a priceless pearl or a field where a treasure is hidden; it is like yeast causing dough to rise or seed sown in a field to yield a harvest (Matthew 13:24-46). Interspersed throughout the teaching on the kingdom, the Gospels abound with stories of Jesus healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the multitudes, driving out evil spirits, calming storms, and raising the dead.
All this comports with Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom when, at the beginning of his ministry, he entered the synagogue and read a scroll from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (61:1-2). Then he announced to the people that the prophecy was being fulfilled in him (Luke 4:16-21). What he was saying, in terms everyone could recognize, was that the kingdom had come.
What then is the kingdom? As we see in Jesus’ teachings, it is a kingdom of life, truth, goodness, peace and love, which continually tries to break into our closed and too often narrowly focused world. In other words, and before all else as the Second Vatican Council taught, “the kingdom is clearly visible in the very Person of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, 5). The kingdom is the living presence of the Lord himself, God who is Love and Truth. Jesus proclaims that “the kingdom of God is at hand” because he is at hand.
Throughout his public ministry, Jesus laid the foundation for the enduring presence of God’s kingdom in the Church, his Body in the world today, which would continue his saving work of the Gospel. The challenge of Jesus to his Church, to you and me, his disciples, is that in the midst of all the things that make up our daily life, we keep our hearts clearly focused on something that is not as visible as the creation around us, but is every bit as real – the presence of God in our lives. He asks that we seek this kingdom first, and that we seek to share this “priceless pearl” with those we encounter and thereby renew the temporal order.
Pope Francis puts it this way: The Gospel we are called to proclaim “is about the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 4:43); it is about loving God who reigns in our world. To the extent that he reigns within us, the life of society will be a setting for universal fraternity, justice, peace and dignity” (Evangelii Gaudium, 180).
In seeking first this kingdom and proclaiming the Good News, in what we say and what we do, we offer humanity a different way of seeing life and the world around us. We bring a fuller vision of life than what the world by itself has to offer, we bring a kingdom of light and love, salvation and peace.