The author of the gospel of Matthew uses the phrase 'Kingdom of Heaven' thirty times, three times saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” So for Matthew's first hearers to have a real feel for what Jesus had taught his closest followers was for them to have a heart felt experience of what 'kingdom of heaven being at hand' means. Surely if the Jesus story is to stay relevant it can mean something like that for us now. And, because Matthew says we enter it through 'repentance' or metanoia we potentially can claim that state of mind and reality by experiencing our view of life and living being turned on its head in some significant ways. Repentance for Matthew is not so simple as to, by our personal will power, stop some bad behavior and start good ones. No, it meant to have ones deepest evaluation of inner and outer reality transformed from whatever cultural and conventional point of view we have inherited.
|Finding Treasure In A Field.|
One may say, “But I’ve inherited my Christian faith. I was taught it. So surely I have the mindset of the 'Kingdom of Heaven is at hand' in blood, in my soul already. I need to expect nothing more or different.” To some degree just being around the stories of Jesus may result is some measure of a 'kingdom of heaven' attitude being absorbed into who we are. But we all likely have something still to look forward to if we have not had those moments when we are aware of the stark contrast between 'the kingdom of heaven' state of mind compared to our cultural, including church culture, point of view we have so deeply drunk from. Many devout persons of various Christian traditions are learning that much of our inherited Christian world view has become instead of a 'Kingdom of Heaven' mindset yet another conventional, materialistic and often moralistic point of view---much as we often find our assumptions about marriage, politics and nation are often as much un-pondered fantasy as fact. The Kingdom of Heaven being present, on the other hand, is something that the author of Matthew is saying we are invited to and can come by grace to experience authoritatively deep in very own being. And it comes not primarily because we have been told we should believe something but rather have had some convincing personal experience.
We find that Matthew believes himself to be in touch with a deep and truthful authority when he says Jesus taught and believed that the 'Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' In this narrative Matthew illustrates how strongly a genuine inner religious authority can strike a human being in his/her depths. He illustrates this kind of unconventional authority by saying that those who were called by Jesus 'immediately left their belongings, occupations and parents' when they were face to face with such genuine authority. Is leaving our livelihood, belongings, and even family the way we would ever properly advise someone to respond to some conventional change in life? Of course not, we would rightly say, 'Examine it further. Sleep on it for goodness sakes. You may be being misled.' The kind of thing we say when one is car shopping. But surely still today when one comes face to face with the deeper inner spiritual forces of life, such as some did who were near Jesus, the need to obey this higher voice and its call is so authentic and authoritative that one would have no reasonable desire but to follow at nearly any cost. This is the nature I believe of what has always been referred to as 'call' and its not reserved for only prospective preachers. It is a natural phenomenon of the human soul. And an experience of such authority is the nature of what it means to come under a fuller awareness of the reality that the 'kingdom of heaven is truly at hand.'
|Off The Beaten Track|
What might it mean and feel like to be moved by such a truth that Matthew says is so central to what it meant to be a Jesus follower? It would mean that as many questions as one may have and as imperfect his/her pattern of loving themselves and and others is, to trust the Kingdom of heaven is near means nothing less than: the potential of loving and being loved as the ordinary and expected experience of being human in this world. It means being given permission by the highest authority that it is appropriate and customary for a human being to live with an incomparable hope that life and the world is headed toward a better condition, not worse. And that each of us has something significant to do with which way it goes. The Kingdom of heaven being a hand means that no mater what other realities and disappointments are observed in life that there are means and forces beyond our present mortal comprehension whereby unsolvable political/social/family/moral issues may be transcended, even at a mass level. And to bring us all to a far more glorious view of just who we are and how each is part of the whole of reality and connected always to the Sacred foundations of all this is. This means that we can, without discrediting or splitting off our intellectual capacities and our latest technologies, be confident that life and love may be experienced on a scale far grander than any of our forebears were able to imagine. Such conclusions as these I think are natural to the state of mind that trusts 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
|A Fig Tree|
May I leave you with Matthew's grand belief: Each of us is capable of coming to a new and broader point of view which affirms in us the right to trust that the very best of God and humanity is potentially yet to come. Even better, it can always be viewed as just around the corner, giving one a consistent 'stay tuned' attitude toward life. When we are open to and blessed with such a mindset we will be living our days and situation very much the way the first and closest friends of Jesus lived theirs.... trusting that the 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'