Autumn, harvest time. In German, the word for autumn is “Herbst,” a word cognate with our word “harvest” (English is a west German language, after all). The readings for these two weeks have at least one clear theme, developed in various autumnal colors: God is looking for a fruitful harvest from his people. And that means: from you, from me. You and I must “bring God’s Kingdom” by faithfully and loving doing what is good, and “speaking the truth from the heart.”
Three of our Gospels often place on Jesus’ lips the symbol, “the Kingdom of God,” or in Matthew’s equivalent, “the Kingdom of heaven.” (As a devout Jew, St. Matthew did not want to take the sacred name of God on his lips, lest he sin). We find in these three Gospels “parables of the Kingdom.” The “Kingdom” is not some earthly ordering of affairs, not “heaven,” not “the Church.” These are three common and widespread misunderstandings of Jesus’ symbol. The phrase is not used by Jesus in St. John’s Gospel; rather, there Jesus speaks of “eternal life,” which does not mean “afterlife,” but “God’s life,” and our life as lived in union with what we call “God.” The “Kingdom of God” means, at various times, God’s Presence among human beings; God’s way of doing things; the mind of the Almighty (His plan for all creation); God’s life shared with his creatures; and so on. It is an extremely rich symbol, but one easily misunderstood. Just keep in mind: wherever you see goodness, beauty, truth, and justice, you are seeing what Jesus points to as “the Kingdom of God” being realized here and now.
Apparently, Jesus agrees with the anonymous prophet known as “Second Isaiah” (chapter 40-55 of Isaiah): “God’s ways are not our ways.” Whereas we expect God to reward those who deserve greater rewards more richly, in the parables we hear this week and next, we are assured that God acts as He wills, and is not limited by our expectations or sense of justice. “Are you envious because I am generous?” Who are we to complain if God chooses to lavish his richest blessings on those who are tardy, who turn their lives over to God even late in life? No one can earn God’s favor; it is freely and generously given.
Clearly, what God is waiting for, and seeking to bring about, is a wholehearted response in each of us, which will “bear fruit richly for the Kingdom.” Those who are slack or lazy or prefer to spend their lives playing around with their toys and games accomplish little good, and do not help to further “God’s way of doing things.” Those who are diligent to use whatever skills, gifts, talents they have for the spiritual and material benefits of others are “children of the Light,” or “sons and daughters of God." Do not be fooled: those who do good, and do it generously, are agents of God’s Kingdom, whether they attend church or not, are ministers or not, or whether they “believe” or not. What God wants is a loving response to His ways, not lip service, and surely not churchy pretense.
Not just our actions, but our inner attitudes must be in harmony with God’s ways, rather than those of covetous or grasping human beings, who are “anxious and troubled about many things.” We hear Christ’s Apostle tell his disciples, “Have no anxiety about anything,” but trust in God and give him thanks. “And then the peace of God, which surprises all understanding,” will keep our hearts and minds in Christ—that is, centered in God’s heart, in God’s Kingdom. The peace that God gives is “the fruit of righteousness,” the inner reward to a human being who does not just “believe,” but who puts into practice what the LORD teaches us in word and by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. Rightful action and the renunciation of evil and selfish ways brings one into God’s peace.
And if anything looks and feels like the Kingdom of God on earth, it is the heart and soul of a man or woman who simply, quietly, energetically does the will of God—cooperates with the Spirit, who “blows where he wills.” As Jesus prayed before being tortured to death: “Not my will, but your will be done.” And consider the enormous, bountiful harvest of Christ’s righteous deeds, even unto death. So it is in those who live God’s Kingdom here and now.