Much of this expresses my current musings on what I've been reading from Christian mystics; I heartily recommend Bernard McGinn's compilation, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, to anyone interested in pursuing this (much) more deeply. He introduces the authors and their context brilliantly, and has selected profound nuggets of a few core pages each from a huge range of sources. It's heavy going, though: profound ideas aren't easily assimilated!
Text: Amos 7:12-15, Psalm 85, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:7-13.
“God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.”1 This is a phrase which, to me, sums up a great deal of our faith. Not only did God create us, but she did so with a purpose, and love is integral to that purpose. Christ has a special role in that plan: we are in unity with him, and so we share in his inheritance of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This business of being God’s heirs is worth looking at a bit more closely. Usually, on Earth, we inherit when someone dies. In the story of the prodigal son, the son’s demand that he be given his inheritance in advance is of itself shocking, because it implies that the son wishes his father were dead. God, however, is still very much alive; how can we honorably inherit the Kingdom while the King still lives?
The answer to this question is bound up in what Paul calls our destiny. It is God’s will to give us the Kingdom, not Christ’s will or ours to take it from him. Our destiny is our purpose as set forth in God’s plan. Like Amos and the Twelve, and all the other prophets and saints and disciples and people everywhere, we are invited by God to participate in the great plan of universal salvation; it is up to us to listen, and to choose whether we will accept or reject that call when we hear it. Before I looked up the Psalm for this Sunday, the refrain running through my head was “If today you hear his voice/ harden not your hearts.”2 Today’s Psalm is even more forceful, though, reading in one verse, “I am listening. What is Yahweh saying?/ What God is saying means peace/ for his people, for his friends,/ if only they would renounce their folly.”3
God’s calling is often uncomfortable. Jesus told his Apostles to go without any assurances of safety or self-sufficiency; they probably spent more than one night cold and hungry after being turned away from a town! Amos, in the first reading, is being accused of being a cheap fortune-teller and exiled for saying unpopular things, even though he was a prophet whom God had called out from a simple shepherd’s life to speak to the people of Israel. It’s a great challenge to us to discern God’s voice and message, and to trust it even though the consequences we see sometimes seem anything but beneficial, at least to ourselves.
The whole of God’s plan is to bring us together in Christ, in whom we are and who is in us. God chooses to give the Kingdom to Jesus, and in him, to us, and yet retains it himself. In a sense, God gives the kingdom to God, and God inherits it from God. For us to participate in this as heirs has enormous implications: we achieve this when we—each singly, and together as community—become at once God and ourselves. If we are not God, we cannot truly be said to be one with Jesus, and inherit as our own what is properly God’s. On the other hand, if we are not also ourselves, then of what use has God’s creation been?
When I receive even a worldly gift or other honor, I am at once exalted and humbled. Humbled, because I know that I am not truly equal to the honor bestowed, and exalted, because the gift itself inspires me to strive more diligently to become worthy of it. God’s grace is even more thus: at the Eucharist, we declare at once that we are unworthy to receive God, and that we have faith that we will be healed of our sinfulness.
Here is a mystery expressed in a riddle: what is all-encompassing, yet grows when it is given away? The only possible answer is love, which is the Kingdom, and which is also God. By creating us, and begetting Jesus, God expanded what was already infinite—or at least, took the first and greatest step towards doing so. It remains for us to complete that work by following Christ, who showed us how to live that love to the fullest. To inherit the Kingdom, we are crowned queens and kings; we can only be crowned in truth, though, when we are kingly and queenly. God’s will is that we become so, and so she gives us grace, and he offers guidance, for us to accomplish this unity with Jesus, the Way and the Word. May we receive these gifts with reverence, and unite our wills to God’s, so that we may share fully in our inheritance of God’s eternal, universal love.
1: Ephesians 1:5
2: Psalm 95, vv. 7-8
3: Psalm 85, v. 8