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Toward the kingdom worth dying for

The realization of the kingdom essentially demands our "serving" rather than "being served upon"

Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

In today’s readings, Isaiah prophesied what our Lord God commits to do for all peoples, and what we all in turn, must commit to do in mutual responsibility for each other, and in cooperation with the ultimate purpose of the Spirit: a kingdom where love, justice and peace reigns.

“Now I am going to gather the nations of every tongue, and they will witness my glory, for I will perform a wonderful thing among them. … They will proclaim my glory among the nations. They will bring your kindred from all the nations as an offering to Yahweh.”

What is this “kingdom of God,” which we are helping to build with the Christ for our Father in heaven? It is a kingdom where no one desires to be above another; rather for the sake of charity, everyone is committed to the service of all. It is a divine kingship in which as a consequence of mutual love and support, no one is in dire need and everyone is free to become the best person they are meant to be. And, it is also a reign forewarning the judgment of all those who will stand in selfish obstruction to and violent suppression of this divine intent for “the new heavens and the new earth.”

But fully realizing the sovereignty of the Spirit may be an aspiration which will not be too easy to achieve, because we first have to forego our pride and control our selfishness, which we have deemed otherwise necessary for our own sense of self-worth.

Consequently, God will persistently test us to help us realize the extent to which we have to relinquish our “ego-centric” selfishness, for a “reign-centric” selflessness: “What you endure, is in order to correct you. God treats you like sons, and what son is not corrected by his father? All correction is painful at the moment, rather than pleasant; later, it brings the fruit of peace, that is, holiness, to those who have been trained by it.”

Thus, the kingdom is a vision which promises the tranquil joy of helping each other, but which will not come without the pain of us trying not to “become better than someone else,” and of us giving up what we have worked so hard to earn, so we can give willingly to those whom we think “do not deserve” what we already have. The kingdom of God will only be possible when we have “died” to ourselves.

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It is in this sense that the Christ exhorts us, “Do your best to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” We may have sat “at table” and “ate and drank” with him in the eucharistic meal, but if afterwards, we do not prepare to serve his kingdom such that “some who are among the last, will be first; and some who are among the first, will be last,” he will testify against us in the end, “I do not know where you come from,” irreversibly sentencing us to a perpetual death.

We must carefully bear in mind that the realization of the kingdom essentially demands our “serving” rather than “being served upon,” both our active involvement with the people we have sworn to serve, and our prayerful disposition with the Father whom we have professed to love.

May we pray: Father, your Son lived and died for the kingdom, a reign that promises eternal bliss for all of humanity, but which surprisingly, no one is seriously committed to achieve because of the personal interests, advantages and gains that we may have each to forego for the sake of the common good. It is a reign that can only be thus achieved against tremendous odds, by passing through the “narrow door,” a reign that can only be achieved by overcoming our own pride, greed and lust.

Am I to also live and die for this kingdom? Help me to realize that the reward of universal justice and peace is a far greater good than individual happiness, which can only be possible if one faithfully refuses to take advantage of another. Help me to struggle for this end and may my death contribute to it. Help me to hope and to anticipate your eternal love at the consummation of my sacrifice.

This I ask in your most Holy Name. Amen.

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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