At the start of his public ministry Jesus declared that the Kingdom of God was imminent. This kingdom was his favourite topic, and his mission revolved around it. The existence of a kingdom presupposes the existence of a king and his subjects.
The Church is Christ’s kingdom on earth and we are the subjects. That’s how the Lord sees it. But how do we see the Church? Do we see it as Christ does or do we see it as a mere social gathering? In his book,“Models of the Church”,Cardinal Avery Dulles outlines six ways of understanding the Church:
1. The Church as an Institution (including a hierarchy of ministries, to continue Christ’s mission, and reflecting a need for order, unity and consistency of teaching).
2. The Church as a Mystical Communion (including our mysterious and intimate spiritual union with God and each other through the Body of Christ).
3. The Church as a Sacrament (including the responsibility to be, as the Sacraments are, the visible presence of God on earth).
4. The Church as a Kerygmatic (Proclamation) Agent (including the mission of the People of God, the baptised, to proclaim God’s Word).
5. The Church as a Servant (including dialogue with society and assisting people in a variety of needs through social advocacy and charitable works).
6. The Church asa Community of Disciples (including Catholics’ sense of always being learners,formed by the scriptures, acting lovingly, sharing in Jesus’ mission and service, and being co-responsible for the Church’s mission and identity).
In reality,each of these models is an aspect of the Church but nonecapturesits entirety. The Church is the Kingdom of God on earth and our means to the heavenly Kingdom.Thus, when we say “Thy Kingdom come,” do we mean the same thing as Jesus when he taught us that prayer? Do we pray for God’s kingdom where hearts obey him out of faith and love, or the kingdom of this world where hearts obey themselves out of selfishness and fear? True Christian citizenship demands that we always obey our King and carry out his commands. Obedience, though, is always a challenge for us.
Jesus knows this, and he does not demand blind, mindless obedience. Rather, he uses parables to explain the secrets of his kingdom with a promise that by following and obeying him, our lives will be fruitful. The virtues that bring us true, lasting beauty and fulfilment in life – wisdom, courage, self-control, and Christ-like love, etc., are like the seeds in today’s parables. They are planted in our hearts at baptism and, as we walk with Christ everyday, they grow and blossom. Good discipleship is the sure path to an abundant spiritual harvest here on earth and forever in heaven. By making us citizens of his Kingdom and his messengers on earth, God gives each one of us the opportunity to put our own creativity at the service of that Kingdom.
Both our Gospel parables today teach a similar lesson, but it may help us to apply the first one (on the seed growing secretly) to how the kingdom of God grows in us; and the second one (on the mustard seed) to how the kingdom of God grows through us. Thus, the parable of the seed growing secretly challenges us to be patient with our seeming lack of progress in the spiritual life. Often, we wonder why we still succumb to temptations, why we are not yet saints, why we are not yet as holy as we should be. However, even though our spiritual growth may not be visible, the Gospel assures us that so long as we abide in Christ, the seed of faith sown in us will continue to grow and come to fruition in the beatific vision. Likewise, the parable of the mustard seed is call for us not to discount the seemingly insignificant things we do for God, thinking that our little efforts are of no effect.
A mustard seed is a very tiny one to sow but with time it becomes a great shrub providing shelter to the birds. The parable challenges us to be more diligent in the little, everyday things we do for the kingdom of God. At the right time, those apparently unimportant things will bear great fruit to the glory of God. Despite its insignificant beginnings, the Church of Christ has grown tremendously and will continue to expand God’s kingdom on earth. Like the mustard seed, it spreads its branches to every corner of the globe, giving spiritual shelter to every race and nation.
Therefore, we are challenged to anchor our lives on the rock of Christ’s friendship by obeying his commands and following the teachings of his Church. But the commandments are just the beginning of the spiritual life. God does not want us to be robots; he wants us to be companions, and free citizens of heaven. He does not programme us like machines but rather inspires us, like soldiers or artists. He wants us to get to know his plan, and then to freely bring our own resourcefulness, intelligence, and imagination to the task of building up his kingdom in the world. God does not micromanage us on a day-to-day basis, but rather he gives us the intelligence and creativity to do something wonderful, beautiful, and lasting for him and for humanity.
It does not matter our own model of the Church, what matters is our love for Christ and our zeal for his kingdom. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to build our lives on the solid foundation of friendship with Christ and obedience to his kingship, to build energetically and creatively, as love always does. That goes for every Christian, not just priests and religious, but every one of us!
As we receive Christ in the Blessed Eucharist today, let us thank him for making his Church so much more than just a social gathering, and let us renew our commitment to the everlasting Kingdom of God. Amen!