The Kingdom of Heaven
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When Jesus was thirty years old, the time had come for him to begin his mission. First, he went to see his cousin, John the Baptist. John was now a great prophet. Crowds of people came to heat him preach repentance and to be baptized as a sign of sorrow for their sins. Some people thought John was the Messiah, but John made it clear that he was only the Savior's herald: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness ...' prepare the way of the Lord'... One is coming who is greater than I, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."
So naturally, John was startled to see Jesus wading into the Jordan River. "It is I who ought to be baptized by you". he said. Jesus insisted, even though he did not need to be baptized. He wanted to share everything with the people, including their sorrow for sin. After Jesus was baptized the Holy Spirit came down upon him, and the voice of God the Father was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."
Jesus then went into the desert mountains to pray and to fast for forty days. He knew his work would be difficult, and he needed this time to prepare himself for it. At the end of the forty days, Satan came to tempt Jesus. He tried to persuade Jesus to make life easy for himself with his miraculous powers, to be a mighty earthly ruler, accepted by all. But Jesus wanted only the will of his Father. He would not and could not sin. He sent Satan away.
After coming back from the desert, Our Lord began preaching in the villages of Galilee. He spoke in synagogues, on the streets, by the lake shores, and on the hillsides. Jesus did not spend much time with the educated Pharisees or the religious leaders of his day. He wanted to bring the Good News of salvation to the poor, to sinners, and to all whom the world considered unimportant. Among his disciples were simple fishermen and even a tax collector whom everyone had hated. The boys and girls of Galilee loved to be near Jesus. Here was a rabbi (religious teacher) who was a real friend to them!
Jesus taught the people truths about God, about Heaven, and about the way to get to Heaven. He said that God loved them like a Father and was longing for sinners to come back to him. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, whose members would be not merely servants, but children of God. Children of the Kingdom were to have a way of life that would reflect God's loves. They were to love all men, even their enemies. They were to forgive and pray for those who sinned against them. Jesus said they would be judged by how they treated the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and all who could not help themselves.
To help people understand better what the Kingdom of Heaven was, Jesus told short stories called parables. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed', said Jesus in one of his parables. "It is the smallest of seeds. But when it grows, it is greater than other plants. It becomes a tree." (Mt 13:31-32). This helps us see that the work of Christ and his Church began in a small, hidden way. It seemed unimportant to the world, like the mustard seed. But the Kingdom would grow until it became the greatest spiritual kingdom in the world. Like the mustard tree, it would tower over the kingdoms of men.
At another time, Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven was like a giant fishnet let down into the water. "And when it was full the men pulled it out and, sitting by the shore, they gathered the good fish into containers and the bad they threw away" (Mt 13:47-51). At the end of the world, God will gather all men together and separate the good from the bad. In the meantime, it is not our job to judge each other, just as the fish could not decide by themselves who was good and who was bad. Judging fish is the job of the fisherman; judging souls is best left to God.
One of the most beautiful parables is about a treasure in a field. (Mt 13:44). A man was digging in the ground when he discovered a buried treasure. Knowing the value of the treasure, he sold all that he owned, and with that money bought the land where the treasure was hidden. When we discover the Kingdom of Heaven, we have found the greatest treasure of all. We do not mind giving our lives to Jesus, because in exchange he will give us eternal life in Haven. Other people may not understand why we follow Christ. Perhaps the man in the parable looked stupid to others, giving his life savings for a plot of worthless land. They did not about the hidden treasure. In the same way, the joys of Heaven are hidden from many people today. But those who have found the Kingdom of Heaven know it is worth any price.
Jesus chose twelve men to be his closest friends, his apostles. They were to spend more time with Jesus than anyone else. Someday they would carry on his work by preaching, baptizing, and leading the Church he founded.
In all things, Jesus chose to do the will of his Father. The long miles from town to town tired him. The refusal of some to listen to the Good News saddened him. But through it all, Jesus was happy knowing that he was carrying out his Father's plan to save the world and conquer sin. "I have come to do the will of him who sent me", said Jesus, even though the Father's will would one day lead him to pain and death. Jesus knew this, but went ahead bravely, out of love for his Father and love for us.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
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