GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So in closing then I just would like to end with a reflection from St. Augustine in his Tractates on the Gospel of John. He has a number of tractates on John where he comments on this and he makes a point about the nature of Christ's kingdom. This is what he says:
Indeed, his kingdom is here until the end of time, and until the harvest comes will contain weeds... And this could not happen if the kingdom were not here. But even so, it is not from here, for it is in exile in the world. Christ says to his kingdom, “You are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world” (John 15:19)... [E]veryone who is reborn in Christ becomes the kingdom that is no longer of the world. For God has snatched us from the powers of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.
So notice what Augustine does, he draws out one more implication of Jesus' words here, namely this, the relationship between the kingdom and the church. I'll never forget years ago I had a disagreement with a Protestant friend of mine about the kingdom, and it became quickly apparent that we saw it at completely different terms. For him the kingdom was something that would only come at the end of time; only at the final judgment would the kingdom come. For me, as a Catholic, the kingdom was already present in the church. When I tried to identify the kingdom in the church, he said no, no, no, the kingdom doesn’t have anything to do with the church, the kingdom comes at the end of time; the church is now, the kingdom is in the future.
And it's interesting's because there is some truth to that. The kingdom will come in its fullness at the end of time, but the church is very clear here that the church on earth is the kingdom of God but present in mystery, right. It doesn't look quite like the kingdom but it is the kingdom, there’s still weeds and wheat in the field, so to speak. And you know this is the case because Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom and makes him the foundation stone of his church, right. So in that statement to Peter in Matthew 16, kingdom and church are two ways of talking about the same reality. So I just think it's important to remember that. That although the church is essentially heavenly in her nature and she will only be fulfilled at the end of time, the church is the kingdom present in mystery, as Vatican II taught. So what Augustine is saying ßto us here is that insofar as we belong to the church, we live in this world, but we’re not of the world, because we belong to a kingdom that is essentially heavenly in character.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...there’s a famous passage that says — it talks about the enemies of God making “war on the Lamb”, which is a title for Jesus in the book of Revelation. And it says:
… the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings…
So very important title. Again, most people are familiar with that — Jesus is the King of kings. And what that means in the reading for today is that He is the ruler of kings on earth. In other words, all of the kings of this world — all of the presidents and prime ministers and potentates and kings and queens — they’re all beneath Christ the King. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth.
For the book of Revelation to call Jesus king of kings, in a first century setting, would have had a particular connotation. It doesn’t just
mean that He’s above all of the earthly kings. It’s actually a little bit more than that. If you want to see this, you’ve got to go back to the book of Ezra, because this expression “king of kings” or “ruler of kings” actually occurs in the Old Testament. In the book of Ezra chapter 7, verses 11 and 12, there’s a letter from the Persian emperor, King Ar-ta-xerx′es to Ezra the priest, and listen to what it says:
This is a copy of the letter which King Ar-ta-xerx′es gave to Ezra the priest, the scribe, learned in matters of the commandments of the Lord and his statutes for Israel: “Ar-ta-xerx′es, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven.
Alright, so pause there. Why does Ar-ta-xerx′es call himself “king of kings”? Is that just an honorific, is it just some kind of grandiose title? Or does it mean something specific? Well, the answer is it means something specific, because Ar-ta-xerx′es isn’t just a local king over a local tribe or a local city. Ar-ta-xerx′es is the emperor. It’s the Persian empire. Just like you had the Babylonian empire, you have the Persian empire. You have the Greek empire, and then you’re going to have the Roman empire. And the difference between a mere kingdom and a mere king and an empire and an emperor is that an empire is a kingdom that rules over other kingdoms. An empire is a kingdom that invades other kingdoms, takes over their territory and makes them its subjects.
So when Ar-ta-xerx′es says he's the king of kings, a legitimate English translation of that would be “Ar-ta-xerx′es the emperor to Ezra the priest”. Alright, now fast forward back to the New Testament. When the reading for today from the book of Revelation calls Jesus the ruler of the kings of the earth, what it’s essentially saying about Him and what it would have meant in a first century Jewish context is that Jesus isn’t just the Son of God. He’s not just the king of Israel, He’s not just king of the Jews, He’s not even just the king of the kingdom of Heaven. It’s saying Jesus is the emperor. It’s Christ the emperor, the ruler of the kings of the Earth. So when we talk about the kingdom of God — this is so crucial. The expression basileia tou Theou
, kingdom of God, in context actually could be translated completely and legitimately as “the empire of God”, because the kingdom of God isn’t just a local kingdom. It is imperial; it seeks to dominate every kingdom and every king in the world and subjugate the entire Earth to the kingship of Jesus Christ.
Now as soon as I say that, you might think, “Whoa, that sounds like colonialism.” And you’ll see there’s lots of studies these days on colonialism and postcolonialism going on. And those studies are all being carried out according to earthly categories, but when we talk about the kingdom of God as an empire, we have to remember it’s different from every earthly empire. For one thing, it’s peaceful in the way it conquers; it conquers through conversion. But in the second thing, it’s ultimately heavenly in its origin and its nature.
So… at the same time though, in the modern period, we just lose this. We forget this. One of the most explosive aspects of the early Christian message was that as the Christians were going out and proclaiming Jesus not just to be the Messiah but to be the king of kings and lord of lords, in a first century Roman context and a Greco-Roman context, that would have been a politically explosive message, because what you’re saying is, Jesus Christ our king, the Messiah, is greater than Caesar. He’s above the emperor, and His kingdom (unlike Caesar’s kingdom) is going to last forever. It’s going to conquer Caesar's kingdom… which of course, if I had more time I could show you, is one of the reasons I would suggest that Peter and Paul make a beeline for Rome, so to speak — why Rome is so important in early Christian missionary activity. It’s not just because Rome is the central hub of the Roman empire, and if you want to influence the empire, you’ve got to influence Rome on an earthly level.
It’s also because in the book of Daniel chapter 2, the most important prophecy of the kingdom of God in the Old Testament. The kingdom of God starts off small, like a little stone, and it hits this idol — this statue made of four different metals at the base of its foot. And then it brings that idolatrous statue to an end, and then it becomes … it turns into a great mountain and spreads throughout the earth. And this is an apocalyptic way — remember this is Daniel, an apocalypse, we read in Revelation also an apocalypse — of describing how the four great empires of the Old Testament, which are depicted through the imagery of gold, silver, bronze, and iron… so the Babylonian, the Persian, the Greeks. I’m sorry — the Babylonian and the Medo-Persians, because they’re together, the Greek and the Roman Empires… they are going to be transcended and conquered by the fifth great empire, and that is the empire of God.
This is what Revelation is assuming when it refers to Jesus as the ruler of the kings of the earth and king of kings.
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