I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | The kingdom of heaven is alive in our midst

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The readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter are intended to help us to see the kingdom of God, not only in the next life, but also in our present life.

Beginning with the Gospel, we see Jesus try to allay the fears of the apostles, telling them He must go away to prepare a place for them and then He will return. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me." He acknowledges their faith in God, and now He asks them to have that same faith in Him.

He explains, "In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be." This is an attempt to allay their fears about His coming departure.

In other words, He seems to say, "I know that you are sad that I am going away, but I say to you: Lighten up! I will come back and take you with me. My going away from you is not the end of our relationship, but the beginning of something vastly better."

Jesus then lays the groundwork for gradually revealing to His apostles the unfolding of God's kingdom here on this earth.

When Thomas asks for directions on how to get to that place being prepared, Jesus responds, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father."

Philip then presses the issue. "Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us." Jesus responds, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father ... Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe because of the works themselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father."

Jesus says that right now He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him and that the kingdom of heaven is all around them. They will see this clearly after the Resurrection when the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to see the same kingdom that Jesus sees at the present time. Once their eyes are opened, they do the same things that Jesus does now, and even greater things than these. This promise of things to come takes away some of the sting of His coming departure.

The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates how the kingdom of heaven is alive in the midst of the apostles' ministry. When there is the potential for jealousy between the Hellenists and the Jews, the Holy Spirit present in the apostles brings a solution. The fear of the Hellenists is allayed. The Holy Spirit has changed hearts.

The second reading also demonstrates how the kingdom of God is in their midst. Peter tells his disciples, "Beloved: Come to Him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

Notice Peter's invitation: "Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house...and to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." He really says, "Give the Holy Spirit permission to work in your hearts and enable you to make spiritual sacrifices." How do we make spiritual sacrifices? It's simple but not easy. Every time we embrace spiritual suffering because of the kingdom, we offer God a spiritual sacrifice.

Every time we embrace the cross of obedience to the Gospel, we offer a spiritual sacrifice. Every time we allow the Holy Spirit a chance to help us make a change from our compulsive and preferred way of responding, to a more redeemed way of responding, we change. We become a stronger witness of the kingdom taking shape within us.

Here is a simple way of becoming a living spiritual sacrifice. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where He would like to make a change in your life. What is a bad habit that really gets to you? Then ask for the Holy Spirit's help in counteracting this bad habit and in replacing it with a redeemed response. When we embrace the pain of not giving in to sin, we experience a new era of peace and hope welling up within us. Hence, habits of virtue supplant habits of vice. Our inner being becomes more peaceful. We remain calm in the midst of confusion and turmoil. We become a source of inspiration to others. They will often look to us for guidance and support.

Then we begin to see the kingdom all around us with its many temptations to give in to our weaknesses or to embrace a changed way of life. Then we also see, in a compassionate way, the struggles of our fellow travelers. Then their offenses against us take on a whole new light.

Instead of turning against those who offend us, we beg God's mercy for them, asking God to give them relief from their weaknesses. Suddenly, we discover the joy of being intercessors instead of oppressors. That is kingdom living! 

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