Let’s take Jesus of Nazareth at his word when he proclaimed, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” By “at hand” he did not mean some far-off time or a pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die promise; he meant right now. The question then becomes, how do we gain entry? As it happens, the question was answered with the admonition that immediately preceded Jesus’ proclamation. “Repent,” he said. We might think he was calling on people to clean up their act because God’s kingdom was coming. But the word translated as “repent” from the original Greek of the New Testament is metanoia, which literally means to change the mind. So how are we to think differently to find our way into God’s kingdom? In a word, it is through love.
It is often said there are only two emotions to which all others are subordinate: love and fear. Perhaps I should also say there are two emotions to which we are subordinate. They are not so much emotions as elemental forces, although we experience them emotionally. One binds, the other breaks. Love is the binding energy in life, whereas fear drives everything apart. One or the other rules every aspect of our lives, and their rule is absolute.
For all intents and purposes, we live in a binary world. It may not appear so, since we can easily point to cross-currents of love and fear in our own experience – indeed, within our own psyches. We can love and still be afraid, or be afraid and still love. But at any given time, one or another predominates, permeating every aspect of our lives. Of the two, fear seems much the greater force, so much so that love may appear to us as little more than a distant hope or a half-remembered dream of a paradise lost. We tell ourselves we must live in the real world and be on our guard, not realizing we are being stalked by nothing more tangible than our own fears. We wrap ourselves in the protective mantle of self, which merely enshrouds us in fear.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. By “this world” he was referring to Pilate’s world, the one St. Paul later described as the principalities, powers and “world rulers of this present darkness.” It is the world ruled by fear. From the standpoint of the powers and principalities, the kingdom of God is utterly insignificant, much as Stalin once sneered, “The Pope! How many divisions has he got?” Jesus himself once compared God’s kingdom to a mustard seed, which he noted was the smallest of all seeds. But then he went on to say that when the seed has grown “it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." The seed of God’s kingdom may be tiny, but it can endure prolonged periods of fire and ice awaiting the proper conditions to germinate.
It was no accident that Jesus later made the same reference to a mustard seed in talking about faith. He said, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." God’s kingdom and faith both start small, and they both require that we make the first move. If we wait for some sign from above, we will wait forever. The sign we are looking for will always come as an inner prompting. Jesus told the Pharisees not to bother looking to and fro for the coming of God’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God is within you,” he explained. If it’s the key to the kingdom you seek, try looking in your own pocket.
Matthew 13:32; 17:20