TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Building the Kingdom

Over the past few weeks, in our Sunday readings, we have been listening to Chapter 13 from Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus speaks in parables about the Kingdom of God. 

He leaves us with the following images:

The sower, the soil and the seed, the wheat and the darnel, the mustard seed, the yeast, the treasure hidden in the field, fine pearls, and a dragnet cast into the sea.

Jesus is speaking not only to the crowds and his disciples, but he is also speaking directly to us. He is reminding us of the treasure we have already received – the kingdom of heaven – seeking our treasure in God, and not in the glittering goods of this passing world.

Here is a snapshot of the words from this Sunday’s readings:

God said to Solomon: “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”.  Solomon replied: “Give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” (1 Kings 3, 5, 7-12)

“God’s kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field, and then accidentally found by someone walking through. The finder is ecstatic, and proceeds to sell everything he owns in order to raise the money to buy that field; … is like a jeweller searching for fine pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.” (Matthew 13, 44-52) 

Christian Brother, Julian McDonald wrote the following words:

All three of today’s parables are about perspectives and priorities and the urgency with which we approach them. Jesus is inviting us to unclutter our lives, to readjust our priorities and to put the things of God at the top of our list. Therein lies the kind of wisdom that is at the focus of today’s first reading. In fact, Job described that kind of wisdom as more valuable than any amount of flawless pearls and precious stones:

“Wisdom can’t be bought with the finest gold; no amount of silver can get it. Even famous Ophir gold can’t buy it, nor even diamonds and sapphires. Neither gold, nor emeralds are comparable; extravagant jewellery can’t touch it. Pearl necklaces and ruby bracelets - why bother? None of this is even a down payment on Wisdom!” (Job 28, 13-18).

Wisdom helps us to distinguish what is of lasting value for our lives and what is simply attractive on the surface but lacking in substance (the parable of the dragnet). But wisdom has to be accompanied by faithful commitment and adherence to the agenda of Jesus and his Gospel.

By accepting the agenda of Jesus, we grow into putting ourselves second, and giving our attention to the people and values that were at the centre of Jesus’ life - the needy, the lonely, the forgotten, the neglected, and we invest our energy in making sure that mercy, compassion, justice and reconciliation are central to the way in which we live and act. But there is a price to be paid for choosing to live like that.

This all serves as a reminder of the theme chosen by Bishop Bill for our diocesan synod - Building the Kingdom of God together in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

A paper was prepared by Patricia Egan for the first session of our synod which was held last November, on the weekend of the Feast of Christ the King. I will share this with you to serve as a reminder as to what we are attempting to grow in the soil of our diocese.

In the context of our 21st century Australian Church seeking to be ‘inclusive, participatory and synodal,[i] some may question whether the concept of ‘building a kingdom’ will help us, as a diocesan community, to respond to the challenges we face at this time in our history.

However, if we are truly seeking to be a more Christ-centred Church and to address the challenging Plenary Council 2020 themes, then our focus needs to be on Jesus and on the Good News he came to bring. That Good News was presented in terms of ‘the kingdom’ throughout the gospels - in well over 100 verses.

Jesus’ first spoken words in the gospels were, ‘The time has come … The kingdom of God is near.’ (Mk 1:15) and he described his own mission as being ‘sent to preach the gospel about the Kingdom.’ (Lk 4:43). He went ‘throughout all Galilee teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom’. (Mt 4:23).  He taught his followers to pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ (Mt 6:10).

‘The kingdom’ was in fact the central theme of Jesus’ teaching, his way of communicating to his followers the gospel values that would counteract the evils in society and lead them to understand God’s love and to enjoy happiness in this life and the next.

Jesus wanted his followers to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Mt 6:3), and he told many parables to explain what he meant by that. The kingdom of God was, he said, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a mustard seed, like leaven hidden in dough, like a dragnet cast into the sea gathering fish of every kind. He often said the kingdom ‘may be compared to’ …. to a man who casts seed upon the soil; to ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom; to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves; to a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire labourers; to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said of the poor in spirit and of those persecuted for the sake of righteousness that ‘the kingdom of God is theirs’ (Mt 5:3,10). He spoke about how difficult it was ‘for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ (Mt 19:23), and significantly, he associated the kingdom with children: ‘Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.’ (Mk 10:15). 

Jesus was, of course, was not promoting an earthly, patriarchal kingdom of wealth, status and power but rather the exact opposite. "My kingdom is not of this world." (Jn. 18:36]. His was a kingdom concerned with “truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love and peace" [LG 39][ii]. It was concerned with God’s unconditional love seeking to transform people’s lives and their relationships with God and with one another.

For that reason, Paulist Fr. Richard Chilson csp has suggested that it may be helpful to think of the Kingdom of God as ‘Love's Domain’ or ‘Love's Rule’ because it exists ‘where the God who is Love rules’. As Pope John XXIII said, “It’s not that the gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better.”

Hopefully, as we undertake ‘Listening and Discernment’ gatherings across the diocese, we will listen not only to what the Spirit is saying to us through the words of others including those who may differ from us. We will also listen to what the Spirit continues to say to us through the words of Jesus in the gospels and we will seek to understand them better.

That is surely the only way we will really discern how is God calling us to be a Christ-centred Church that is missionary and evangelising; inclusive, participatory and synodal; prayerful and Eucharistic; humble, healing and merciful; a joyful, hope-filled servant community; open to conversion, renewal and reform[iii].

That is the only way we will challenge and support one another in ‘building the Kingdom of God together in this Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’.

The Synod Working Party, the four Focus Groups and now the five Focus Teams continue to look towards building the kingdom of God together in our diocese. Like Solomon, we pray for the gift of wisdom, for a discerning heart.

[i] Plenary Council 2020 Discernment Themes

[ii] Vatican II  Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church

[iii] Plenary Council 2020 Discernment Themes

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.