We hear today in Jesus’ instructions to his disciples one of the phrases that Scriptures scholars consider closest to the heart of Jesus’ message. He says to them: “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” It’s a beautiful phrase, but ever since I began to think, “there might be something to this faith thing,” I’ve wondered what Jesus meant by that commonest of phrases, by “kingdom of heaven.”
I think we get a clue, a hint at an answer, in our first reading: the climax of the dramatic conflict between Joseph and his brothers. This climax—indeed the whole story—is so powerful not just because of the drama of betrayal and slavery and Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt, but because of Joseph’s cathartic words: “do not reproach yourselves,” he says to his betrayers, “it was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.”
The lesson here is not that we ought to rejoice in the betrayals we experience, it’s that God never ceases to make a way out of no-way, never stops building the kingdom. We see it in Joseph who somehow dredges up from within himself the gentle strength to forgive even his brothers who have trespassed against him. And he is able to do so in part because he has, over many years, trusted that God was actively making a way for him. Surely this is something of what Jesus meant when he spoke to his disciples—as he does to us today—of the Kingdom of heaven.
—Fr. Patrick “Paddy” Gilger, SJ, was ordained on June 15, 2013, and is serving as Associate Pastor of St. John’s Parish, Creighton University, Omaha. Click here for an Ignatian News Network video on ordination featuring Fr. Gilger.