1 Kings 17, 7-16 + Psalm 4 + Matthew 5, 3-16
June 10, 2014 + Villa Theresa Convent + Oklahoma City, OK
The Jewish people at the time of this Gospel’s earliest formation avoided using the name of God. They had all sorts of substitutes, but it seems that the word used by most people was “heaven”. With very few exceptions, this Gospel, so deeply set in the Judaism of its time always speaks of the “Kingdom of Heaven” instead of the “Kingdom of God.” It was the politically correct turn of phrase. It was polite, inoffensive, and respectful. However, a problem begins to arise once you move out of that time and that place because it suggests that the “Kingdom of God” is identical with heaven leading anyone who does not read this Gospel critically to assume that the Kingdom of God is somewhere else, and perhaps for some other time which then makes the work and preaching Jesus Christ quite a bit less immediate and a bit less emphatic since there was hardly any reason to get all worked up about something that would happen somewhere else later. However, there is nothing about the behavior of Jesus and nothing in his teaching to support that idea. In fact, picking up on the themes of John the Baptist, it is quite the contrary. The Kingdom of God, or perhaps better said, “The Reign of God” is primarily and above on earth, and Jesus insists again and again that it has begun. It is an event that has already happened.
In Israel people began to speak of “God’s royal reign” during their monarchical period; the times of David and Solomon. This idea of God’s royal reign had a relationship to actual society from the very beginning of its use. It would be a real experience in which God’s kingship would be visible. It was not some ideal for the future, and in the Bible this concept never referred to something purely internal or spiritual. The “Kingdom of God would affect all relationship right then and there. After all, people knew that a king without a people is no king at all but simply a figure in a museum. If God is King, then there already is a Kingdom and people within it.
What Matthew proposes to us in Chapter Five in these verses we call “The Beatitudes” is a profound awakening of the reality of the present reign of God. This is the beginning of the public life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It is his inaugural address. It expresses what he sees as his mission and the agenda of his life. It is not a vision of what heaven will be like. It is a proclamation of the Kingdom of God which he says has already begun. In that Kingdom, in that society, in relationships Jesus is forming among his disciples the poor will be blessed. They will not be cursed. Those who morn will find comfort. The condition of the meek will be reversed. Instead of being left out or last, they will get their inheritance. There will be no hunger or thirst, and mercy will be the experience of everyone. The clean of heart will reveal God. Peacemakers will know God’s favor, and the victims of violence, the persecuted, will find joy rather than fear. This does not describe the future. This is the vision Jesus has for the present, for the life of those who follow him, for the society and its members who are willing to leave all things and follow him.
This religious community is today and has been for many generations just such a society: a people who acknowledge, profess, and live in the Royal Reign of God. It is not an idea, and the Kingdom of God is not something for an afterlife for those who are worthy. It is a way of life inspired by a young woman in France who caught the imagination of countless people all over the world by her simplicity, meekness, poverty, and mercy. She was “pure of heart” which has nothing to do with cleanliness, but everything to do with the truth that what you see is what you get. No hidden agenda, no other focus in life other than life itself. She said once in a letter: “You know well enough that our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions nor even their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”There is a “Beatitude” in full view.
Theresa was like the woman we heard about in the first reading today whose greatness was not so much what she gave to the prophet, but the loving trust with which she gave it all. What we celebrate this week, last Sunday and again today in this old Motherhouse that has heard the laughter of joyful servants as well as their suffering is just such a “Beatitude”: a happy attitude of trust and confidence, fidelity, obedience, and service. When we celebrate and rejoice gratefully with Sister Sylvia, it is not just Sister Sylvia who is honored, admired, and loved. It is also all those who walked these halls before her in solitude with Christ and in sisterhood with companions who like the woman in Zerapath have given it all because they have nothing to fear. Just before Jesus gave everything he had into his passion, he sat down with his disciples in full view of the place in the temple where people left their offerings, and he observed a widow placing her last coins into the treasury. It was a gift of love, and sign of the Reign of God; because in that reign, in that society, and in that loving community Jesus came to establish she had nothing fear about her future. Others would care for her, feed her, give her shelter, and provide from what they had to keep her from suffering alone.
This is the Kingdom of God, a real place that has social dimensions and relationships of trust and love. The reign of God develops its power where people live the new common life established by God and endow that common life with everything they have. This is what you are, sisters; and this is what you have been doing for the past fifty years, Sister Sylvia. You have left all things and sold all that you have to follow Christ into the mystery of God’s Kingdom. All of you live it faithfully here in a community that is poor, meek, merciful and sometimes persecuted by those who do not see the light that shines in you.
Sister, may you find hope and comfort in the words Theresa, your patron once said to her family: “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.”
Thank you for fifty years given to us all in Oklahoma.