The kingdom of God: sermon on the fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

“Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

This Sunday is sometimes called “the Sunday of the two masters”. Which of them will we serve: the spirit or the flesh, God or money? But we might also call it “the Sunday of the kingdom of God”. Both St Paul in the epistle and then our Lord in the gospel speak to us of this great theme. The apostle gives us the more elementary teaching. He tells us about some of the mortal sins that prevent a person from inheriting the kingdom: fornication, idolatry, envies, murders and so on. This is, as it were, the ABC of Christianity. Then our Lord gives us the more advanced teaching. He warns us not so much about sins as about what St Francis de Sales said was the greatest evil that can befall us after sin, namely, anxiety or solicitude. Christ does not forbid us to desire food and drink and clothing, since these are natural necessities; nor does he forbid us to think about how to acquire them, for ourselves or for others, and to work hard if need be in order to do so. But He does not want us to be anxious about them, like pagans, but rather to have faith in our Father’s providence and to keep our eyes fixed on the goal, the kingdom of God.

But what exactly is the kingdom of God? And where is it? In the first place, it is the Church, here on earth. St John the Baptist once said to the pharisees, “There hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you do not know”, meaning Jesus the Son of God. But he could say the same thing to the powerful ones of this world: “There hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you do not know”, meaning the Church of Christ. They do not know her as she really is. The Church often seems weak, and yet it is the only kingdom that endures. By baptism, we are its citizens. Yet St Paul’s words already have an application here, since baptised people who commit the sins that he names do not inherit the kingdom to which they belong; that is, they do not benefit from the sacraments that they receive. Let them make a good confession, and then they will already begin to taste instead the fruit of the Spirit: charity, joy, peace, and the others.

So, in one way we are already within the kingdom of God, since faith is a beginning of eternal life. Yet our Lord also tells us to seek it. “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his justice.” We know that even if we are living by the spirit, the flesh is still active. That is to say, we still feel the effects within ourselves of the original sin that we have inherited. This is why, says St Paul, we cannot do all the good that we wish. And just as weeds begin to grow again almost as soon as they have been uprooted, so we are conscious of solicitudes that constantly threaten to spread over our better thoughts, and remove our peace of mind. Thus it comes about that we desire an end to this struggle between the flesh and the spirit, and an end to temporal necessities. We desire to inherit the kingdom of God more perfectly. 

In other words, we desire heaven. At least, this is what we ask for every time that we assist at Mass. The priest says to the Lord, in the canon of the Mass, and on behalf of all the faithful, both on earth and in purgatory, “Deign to grant us, Thy servants, some part and society with Thy holy apostles and martyrs.” Those men and women whose names he goes on to mention, who died so long ago, are not dead. They are living to God. Or, if you wish, you can substitute for the names of the saints in the Roman canon, any saints to whom you are especially attached. They are all experiencing already what St John describes in the Apocalypse: “The Lamb shall rule them, and shall lead them to the fountains of the waters of life,” and we wish to be with them, to come to know them, and to experience the joy that they already possess.

I am not saying that it is possible for us all to have at every moment a strong and conscious desire for heaven. That hardly seems compatible with what St Paul says, about the battle between the flesh and the spirit. But if we do not have such a desire, we can ask for it. That is one good way of doing what Jesus tells us to do, namely, seeking the kingdom of God.

But there is a third and last way in which we are to seek this kingdom. At the moment, it is to a large extent invisible. Of course, the Church is a visible institution, with her own laws and even her own tribunals. But for those who do not have faith, and who see only the human side of the Church, she does not yet appear as the kingdom of God, but simply as one institution among many on earth. And heaven itself is still hidden from our eyes, though we do our best to reflect it on earth by building fine churches and celebrating the sacred liturgy there in a worthy manner. But even though the angels are present at the Church’s liturgy, it is not given to many people in this life to see them; and, as St Paul says, though all things have been subjected to Christ at His ascension, “we see not as yet all things subject to him.”

So, we do well to desire that the kingdom of God should come in a visible manner. St Peter tells us that we should be “looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord”, and if that was true in his day, how much more so in ours, when that great day is so much nearer. St John, at the end of the Apocalypse teaches us to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And Christ Himself wishes us to be “like to men who wait for their lord, when he shall return from the wedding”.

In other words, we seek the kingdom of God above all by desiring the return of Christ in glory, and the resurrection of the dead. That, it seems to me, is when the words of Jesus in the gospel of this Sunday will be most perfectly fulfilled: “all these things shall be added unto you.” At the resurrection of the dead, all things will be added unto the friends of God. Not only will they see God as He is, as they do in heaven already, but their senses also will be glorified. With their bodily eyes, they will see the king of that kingdom, and its queen. And their very bodies will be clothed in a glory that will surpass all the beauties of the world that we now know. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.