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Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Word Made Flesh and The Inauguration of the Kingdom of God

As Catholics, we have been privileged to bear witness to the inauguration of two Popes within recent memory. Both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis were appointed to the role of Bishop of Rome and leader of the Holy Catholic Church in the sight of millions, if not billions, of people as successors
to St. Peter; the rock upon which Christ founded his Church. Unlike the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, by Jesus Christ, these inaugurations were formal, traditional, and laden with ceremony. That is not to say, however, that Christ’s very own inauguration was not present in these events, as the Papal inauguration takes part during a liturgical celebration at Mass. Inaugurations, while not frequent, are familiar. The inauguration of the Kingdom of God, as it occurs in scripture is not the same animal. Many of the same implications of this inauguration are, however, similar to these earthly appointments. The King of God’s Kingdom is Jesus Christ. In recognizing the arrival of our King, we must also recognize the portents of and implications of his Incarnation: The gospels detail the actualization of the kingdom, preparation for its arrival, the calling to it, the response to the call, and the faith that results in having responded. Every one of these aspects are integral to understanding how the coming of Christ, the Word Made Flesh, represents the inauguration of the Kingdom of God.

While the coming of Christ was prefigured numerous times throughout the Old Testament, it was John the Baptist who most explicitly told of Jesus’ arrival in the New Testament.  Prior to Christ’s baptism, in Matthew, we find John urging those who have come for baptism to repent of their sins as a true authority greater than he would soon arrive:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near… I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:2, 3:11).
The Baptist makes it clear that should any oppose the will of Christ suffering would ensue. The will of Christ is none other than love, or “good fruit.” “Bear fruit worthy of repentance… every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:8-10).

After the inauguration of the Pope, and similarly the inauguration of the president, we are charged with adhering to the power of their office. Following Jesus’ Baptism and his time in the wilderness Jesus goes to Galilee where he initiates a call for disciples:
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).
Simon, Andrew, James, and John recognized Jesus’ authority. It was by Jesus’ authority, and the faith displayed by the apostles, that Jesus established a mission of evangelization: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). As disciples of  Christ, and pilgrims en route to the Kingdom, we are similarly called.
Returning the inaugural analogy of the elected president, we realize that his authority, and the rewards that may be had from its observance, are only possible through willing participation. Christ has invited, encouraged, and facilitated our entry into the Kingdom of God, but none of that is sufficient if we are unwilling. What good is a map if we insist that it need not be followed? There are many parables within the Gospels that illustrate this point. The parable of the Sinful Woman illustrates consequences of both great and little faith; great and little reverence:
I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little… Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace (Luke 7:44-50).
Jesus rebukes Simon for his judgment on the Sinful Woman and praises her faith. It is her willingness to submit to and recognize the dominion of Christ that garners her acceptance within the eyes of the Lord. We are called to respond comparably.

The faith that results in the inauguration of God’s Kingdom through the Word is compelling and resolute. The amount of denial necessary to disbelieve something that you have prepared for witnessed and responded to would be considerable if not impossible. Perhaps a more appropriate term would be hubris. The intention of faith in God’s kingdom is deliberate and participation in Him is necessary.