ENTERING INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 18:21-28; PS 130:1-8; MT 5:20-26 ]
What does it mean to enter into the kingdom of God? It means to allow God to enter into our lives. It is to allow God to reign in our hearts and minds. When God rules our lives, there will be peace, joy and love in the Holy Spirit. St Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17) Indeed, what is heaven if not living a blissful life of love, joy and peace, having right relationships with God, others and ourselves? Heaven is when we live a harmonious life with everyone, not just human beings but the entire creation.
Conversely, hell is when we are not at peace with ourselves, with God and with others. “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor 6:9f) To the Galatians, St Paul wrote, “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Gal 5:19-21) Indeed, anyone who lives in sin cannot find peace and joy.
Living in God’s kingdom means that we are subject to God’s rule and so it means sharing the mind and heart of God. It is more than just keeping the laws of God but the spirit of the law as well. This is what the Lord said at the outset of today’s gospel. “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.” We need to go beyond the mere observance of the laws and enter into the spirit and mind of God.
Take for instance the case of killing and anger. Jesus said, “You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill, and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court; if a man calls his brother ‘Fool’ he will answer for it before the Sanhedrin, and if a man calls him ‘Renegade’, he will answer for it in hell fire.” The truth is, anger will eventually lead to revenge and even killing. Even if one does not kill physically, the anger in his heart will take away all joy, peace and love in him. Whoever is angry cannot be at peace with himself. So not only killing, but anger, using harsh words of condemnation and insults will destroy others and rob us of our peace and right relationship with our fellowmen.
To restore peace and joy in our hearts, we must be reconciled with our fellowmen. “Come to terms with your opponent in good time while you are still on the way to the court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge and judge to the officer.” Until we are at peace with those whom we have hurt or those who have hurt us, we continue to punish ourselves by harbouring ill feelings, hurts, resentment, anger because we cannot forgive. As long as we are not ready to let go, the Lord said, “you will be thrown into prison. I tell you solemnly, you will not get out till you have paid the last penny.” We will suffer misery and our minds and hearts will find no rest or peace. Hence, our Lord advises us that happiness can be ours only when we are reconciled with God and our fellowmen. “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.” Unless we are reconciled with our fellowmen, even our offerings to God would not give us peace and joy. We must first offer the gift of forgiveness.
Within this context, we can appreciate the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel when God declared forgiveness for anyone who repents. God said through the prophet Ezekiel, “If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practiced.” Life is ours the moment we surrender our sins to God. He does not keep a record of wrongs. (1 Cor 13:5) The Lord wants the best for us. He wants to give us life. If He punishes, it is in order to bring us to realization what our sins are doing to us. Indeed, He said, “What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?” The Lord is not one who holds grudges. “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency.” (Mic 7:18) So to be saved and enter into the kingdom, we only need to stop sinning.
On the other hand, no matter what good we have done in the past, when we enter into sin, we make ourselves unworthy to live in God’s kingdom. This explains why the Lord also said, “But if the upright man renounces his integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked man and practices every kind of filth, is he to live? All the integrity he has practiced shall be forgotten from then on; but this is because he himself has broken faith and committed sin, and for this he shall die.” Like the Israelites, we might feel that the Lord is not just because all our good things are forgotten. The Lord explains, “But you object, ‘What the Lord does is unjust.’ Listen, you House of Israel: is what I do unjust? Is it not what you do that is unjust? When the upright man renounces his integrity to commit sin and dies because of this, he dies because of the evil that he himself has committed. When the sinner renounces sin to become law-abiding and honest, he deserves to live. He has chosen to renounce all his previous sins, he shall certainly live; he shall not die.” The point is that regardless of the good we have done in the past, our sins remove us from the reign of God, and destroy our peace, joy and integrity. So all we need to do is to repent to be restored into the joy of God’s kingdom. Does it mean all good works are gone and the Lord does not take into account our past good deeds? He does, because if a person is generally of good character and virtues, even when he sins, he does it unwillingly. He falls out of weakness and therefore, it will be easier for him to repent than for a hardcore sinner because he is inclined to goodness and truth.
But there is a catch in this principle. Can one who is a sinner suddenly become a saint? Technically it is possible with the grace of God. That is why, if a person dies after baptism or suffers martyrdom, he goes straight to heaven. But in most cases, it is unlikely because grace works with human nature. So a hardcore converted sinner will have greater difficulty keeping himself from returning back to sin because of his past. Even St Paul struggled against sin after his conversion to the Lord. He said, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7:21-23)
So we need to constantly purify ourselves and keep ourselves pure. “And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 Jn 3:3) So long as we commit sin we are out of the kingdom. Hence, Jesus said, “The tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.” However, they must continue after conversion to persevere in the truth lest they fall into sin. But the truth also is that sinners might not even respond to the call to repentance in the first place because of pride and selfishness. That is why, purgatory is needed for purification of our hearts and to enable us to gradually let go of our sins especially of pride, our unwillingness to let go of the past and forgive ourselves for the foolish mistakes we have made and those who have hurt us. In this way, we grow deeper in our virtues and not just remain on external observances only.
In the final analysis, we are called to trust in God’s forgiveness as in the responsorial psalm. “If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness: for this we revere you. Because with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption, Israel indeed he will redeem from all its iniquity.” So let us trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Every time we sin, we turn to him for forgiveness.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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