Mark 4:26-32; Matth. 13:24-52
The modern Christian message often sounds like, ''Be active, for otherwise the kingdom of heaven will not come!'' But the message of Jesus is different, ''Renew yourself, for the kingdom of heaven is close!''(Matth. 3:2), ''... is in the midst of you!''(Luke 17:20)
Of course, God wants us to be available for Him, to do what He calls us to do, to make it visible to those who are prepared for it - but not to create His kingdom, It would be a pitiable God who depends on our help to establish His rule (Acts 17:25). The bible pictures God differently. He has all the power, and what we do is insignificant compared to what He does (Job 38-41; Psalm 2; Psalm 46; Luke 17:10; Luke 19:40; Matth. 3:9). God's power sustains us, not the other way around (Romans 8:31-39; Phil. 2:13)!
The kingdom of heaven is close! Everything else is secondary to this. Don't oppose people; instead, focus all your energy on what is right before God. Don't worry about your daily affairs. Against His will, you can't change the smallest thing, and anyway He'll give you in abundance whatever you need.
So make it your first priority to strive for being part of His kingdom. Make sure that He rules your life; get rid of whatever prevents you from doing so. For here is the unique opportunity: God is close, He gives when we ask, He listens when we call, He satisfies our hearts and gives us peace.
Be glad you who suffer! God's consolation is available!
Be glad you who long for a world where justice rules! You'll be satisfied!
Don't act to gain recognition from people. If you want to take part in God's kingdom, only His recognition counts.
Don't judge other people! For God judges you according to how you judge others. ''Should you not have had mercy as I had?'' (Matth. 18:21-35). Your own words will excuse or condemn you (Luke 19:22). You'll have to justify everything you say (Matth. 12:36).
People say, ''Be nice to each other''. and in their hearts they think, ''but everything within limits''. But you shall be like your father in heaven and treat good and bad people, friends and enemies, alike; God, too, gives them His gifts and satisfies their needs.
Hearing and talking about my message is not enough, Jesus says.
Do what I say, and you'll have peace, unshakeable foundations in a
world full of turmoil.
If you don't, what you do and achieve cannot last.
If we water down the message of Jesus to something we can do, we didn't really listen to him; we made our own gospel. In his time, people were shocked, exasperated, and they thought of him as being crazy and as going too far. The pharisees were the good churched people of his days, well-respected, with a packaged religion suited to those who were good enough. But Jesus said, if your righteousness does not exceed that of the pharisees, you'll never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matth. 5:20).
The kingdom of heaven is not our kingdom, where we rule (as even the disciples had hoped for, but were corrected by Jesus, Matth. 20:20-28), where our achievements count and are respected, but it is the kingdom of God, where He rules and His achievements are significant.
God cannot shine through when we are great and successful; what He, in fact, did then looks like our achievements, causing people to praise us and to forget God. God has become so invisible in our century since mankind has become so powerful, and we are lured into thinking that we must take the place of God since otherwise nothing gets done. And then we start to worry since assuming the responsibility of God exceeds our capabilities.
His power is most visible when we are at the ends of our wits, and things still get done. Then we realize that God must have been at work.
We deceive ourselves if we lower God's standards to become within reach of our human ambitions. But by taking His word seriously we recognize our limitations and become transparent for the power of God.
On the cross, when Jesus was most powerless and helpless,
God's power was at its peak, changing the fate of mankind forever.
''The word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.''
''Even what seems foolish of God is wiser than men, and what seems weakness of God is stronger than men.''
''God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; he chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.''
''God chose what is low and despised in the world
to prove worthless the things that are respected,
so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.''
What then shall we do when faced with God's holy standards, when we recognize our failures and compromises?
''Which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and
count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?
Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, `This man began to build, and was not able to finish.'
So therefore, whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.'' (Luke 14:28-33)
''The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field,
which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and
sells all that he has and buys that field.'' (Matth. 13:44)
Once we have tasted the bait of Jesus, the fisher of men (Matth. 4:19), we are hooked, and it costs us everything. But, though sometimes it seems tough (Jer. 20:7-18; Matth. 10:16-26), we shall never regret the deal (John 6:68; Romans 8:31-39). For there is another side to the coin...
Imagine you are a bachelor, not very tidy, and your girl friend wants to come to visit you for the first time. ''Oh,'' you think, ''what would she think of me if she knew how I really am.'' So you are anxious, and you make a special effort to tidy up, hide all the dirty clothing, and hope that she wouldn't see the dust in the corners.
Now your friend really loves you; this makes her very perceptive - of course she notices everything. She lets you know with a smile that she half expected this, but she says she came to enjoy your company, not to make you feel miserable. You are not sure whether you can trust this, but at least you are less apprehensive.
Next time you visit her place, finding everything prepared neatly, you enjoy the atmosphere but feel that you'd hardly fit in with your primitive life style.
After a few visits to and fro, you are caught off guard. Your friend comes to see you unexpectedly and sees the mess you've really been living in - you feel very ashamed; but to your surprise she tells you, ''oh, how uncomfortable must this be for you, why don't we tidy up things together.''
You think for yourself, ''She doesn't know, I've become indifferent to this long ago,'' but you tell your girl friend that, yes, it is a good idea. So you clean the dishes while she sweeps the floor and wipes the furniture, and while you do so, you are chatting with her about the latest movie you have seen.
Later you realize, it is much nicer to listen to the music with everything being tidy, and after she leaves, you think it was really a great day. Gradually, you begin to trust that your girl friend really likes you and not just your clever talk and good manners, that you don't need to hide anything from her.
And one day, you find yourself saying to her, ''Look, I know you like me and care for me, and you're the only one I can really trust. You don't accept my shortcomings, but you have such a lovely way of helping me to grow out of them. I don't know how to say it, but I really love you and would like to share with you all my life.''
And she, with tears in her eyes, replies, ''Oh, this is the day
I waited for for a long time. I love you so much''.
Your hearts meet, and everything is different than before.
A new life begins. - -
This is the kingdom of heaven seen from the inside - being a Christian is a love affair between God and ourselves. In the parable, we are the bachelor; God is the girl friend.
We all know that God loves us. But He does not want it to be a one-sided thing. God is alive, and He wants to be loved, too. We may be shy because of the majesty of God and our unworthy, worldly style of living, and we keep distance. When we come to meet Him we put on our best self and suppress our dark side, knowing that in His presence we are expected to be holy.
But He is interested in us, not in the facade we are presenting to Him, and with loving care and gentle directness He shows us that He knows our confused life, and He gives us incentive, courage and help to change.
Yes, He wants us to be holy, and before Him we
find ourselves utterly exposed. But He has such a loving way that we
begin to change. The indifference born of defeat and despair
gives way to a longing for renewal, and gradually or suddenly,
we realize that we want to belong to Him, that He has won our heart.
This is the good news Jesus is talking about when he preaches,
''Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close'' (Matth. 4:17).
''I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents'' (Luke 15:10).
And everything is different than before. A new life begins. ''Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, look! -- the new has come.'' (2 Cor. 5:17).
Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)