Sometimes that’s hard to believe.
It’s easy to look out over the landscape of what humanity has done to the world and believe that this isn’t what God had in mind for us. We’re constantly at war with each other; we poison the water that feeds us and the air that sustains us; we neglect those who don’t have the political or financial power to “count” in our culture or in our world.
Yet in today’s gospel, Jesus says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The early Church took that literally; first-century Christians fervently believed that Jesus would return at any moment, that the world would soon end, and that the Kingdom was quite exactly and physically at hand. For some of them, this assumption made it easier to follow Jesus’ teachings: sell what you own, give it all to the poor, turn the other cheek, feed the hungry… in the shadow of the end of time, this may have seemed more workable than it does to many people living two centuries later who have to pay rent and put food on the table for the next few decades at least.
The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand… we just have to live in the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when. And no one likes uncertainty!
All of which makes today’s gospel extremely challenging, because it seems to ask us to put away that uncertainty and behave as if the Kingdom is already here: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.” That feels like even more uncertainty. It’s unclear how we’re to go about carrying out these difficult tasks; we’re being asked not to think about ourselves, our own security, our own comforts, but rather move forward into an unclear future without any of the material goods that make us feel safe. How are we supposed to resolve that command with living lives in the 21st century?
Perhaps the resolution is not in establishing certainty—something we all aspire to and never will attain in this lifetime—but in remembering that we aren’t simply challenged: we are also loved. Today’s reading from Hosea underscores that: even though God’s children didn’t recognize his love, even though they turned away and embraced the worship of other deities, God’s love remained steadfast: “When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me,” Hosea says. “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks (…) I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.”
I will not let the flames consume you. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The promise is there: we are beloved of our God. We shouldn’t behave as if that were not true. We should be living differently from those around us. We should be bravely taking on the gospel’s challenges, knowing that God is behind it all. We don’t have to be afraid: God won’t let us fall. It may not always feel like it—but the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Jeannette de Beauvoir works in the digital department of Pauline Books & Media as marketing copywriter and editor. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, where she studied with Adian Kavanagh, OSB, she is particularly interested in liturgics and Church history.