Life would not be truly human if it were not shared with others. The social character of human living is essential. Living together, and organising life so that everyone can take part, is like giving a circulation system to the different parts of the same body, which in this case is the human race. The sharing of life starts with the family circle and goes right up to world society which today, thanks to modern communication, is more like a global village. Everyone needs the experience of being recognised and of counting in the eyes of others. People cannot become themselves except by exercising shared responsibilities with others.
Above all, to be truly human life has to have meaning; in other words it should be nourished by values. Values are a treasure which are inherited and acquired. We can compare them to food. Values are to the meaning of life what biological matter is to the food we eat, invisible yet indispensable, hidden yet vital. Lived consciously or not, they are a precious possession for groups of human beings; within a given culture they work in harmony and find their natural collective expression.
This process of finding meaning through the living out of values and the sharing of culture finds its truly human form in an openness to something which transcends the human. The thirst for the absolute is translated into faith in transcendent values which go beyond the immediate experience of life, even if they are not related explicitly to God.
From the point of view of Christian faith, our key values come from the person of Jesus and the Good News of the Reign or Kingdom of God which he proclaimed and to which he gave priority.
The Reign Of God
"Set your hearts on God's Kingdom first, and on God's saving justice, and all these other things will be given you as well" (Mt. 6:33).
This call by Jesus, essentially a call to freedom, is the key for becoming his disciples and has implications therefore for the Church. ... However, it often finds resistance within us, a resistance that can be both personal and cultural. For example, if our cultural ways of thinking, being and acting are characterised by strongly individualistic attitude, or by giving prevalence to the economic dimension of life, this clearly militates against "setting our hearts on God's Reign".
The Church's Priority
Thankfully, the "Reign or Kingdom of God" has re-entered the Church's thinking in recent times, reminding us that the Church is not, and should not be, the centre of our attention. Faith turns its attention not so much to Church organisation and related problems but rather to the mystery of the living God, acting in in ongoing story of the human family.
But if the emphasis is to be put on the action of God calling the world to journey towards the fullness of life in God, then what role and purpose is there for the Church? And since God's action in the world takes on a variety of different expressions in human endeavours, in the values people adopt and in the religions they practise, what does the Church have that is unique? What is its particular mission? What does it mean for it to seek first the Kingdom of God? How does this priority of seeking the Kingdom concern the Church's characteristic features and the image that it presents? How does the Kingdom affect the way in which we the members live together and the way in which we perform the tasks entrusted to us?
Though Jesus spoke constantly of the Reign or realm or Kingdom of God, they are not the most appealing of terms for our modern mentality - and with some justification. There have been times in history when mention of royalty has been synonymous with power, despotism, authoritarianism and the show of riches. In fact it is precisely by being freed of royalty that many countries have been able to move into the world of democracy.
It was not like this for the people of the Bible. For them mention of the Kingdom brought to mind God's choice of his people and the opportunity to communicate with God; the Kingdom recalled their liberation from all kinds of evil and God's goodness and mercy as a power to transform life and history. For this reason it would not be right for us to remove the expression from our vocabulary. It carries with it so many elements of the faith experience common to our ancestors in faith that it must surely be of help in shedding light on the life of Christians today.
Jesus speaks about the Reign of God very often in parables. "What can we say the Kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like..." Jesus never gives a definition. The reality is too rich and fascinating to be hemmed in by concepts. Moreover, the attitudes and deeds of Jesus as well as his words express quite clearly this Kingdom to which he is referring. In the end it is his whole person that helps us to appreciate that this Kingdom is a mystery, something both revealed and hidden.
A Positive Reality
From the beginning the Kingdom presented in the Gospels appears as something positive and of benefit to people. In fact the whole message of Jesus brings joy and peace. Everyone who comes to Jesus finds in him light, grace and the gift of God.
In Jesus we see too the care that God has for humanity. This is particularly true when people are suffering as a result of oppression, alienation or poverty. "Courage, my child, your sins are forgiven" he says to the paralytic who is brought to him on a bed (Mt. 9:1-8). He offers his forgiveness and friendship to those who are the outcasts of his time because they are sinners. From the beginning of his mission he shows how the Kingdom is of benefit to people and removes their fear of evil spirits. He works miracles that always have the flavour of liberation. They are not performed just to impress, or to put pressure on people to believe in him. These miracles rather are signs of his will to liberate humanity and to bring about a deep-down healing of persons and their rebirth to full dignity.
The whole person and the very presence of Jesus are in fact seen this same way. As St. Peter says some years later, at the house of Cornelius at Caesarea, "Jesus went about doing good" (Acts 10:38). It is worth noting too that throughout the Gospels we frequently find Jesus at table. The table is the place for fellowship, for rejoicing, for recreation, for feasting!
A Reality Which Calls To Conversion
If we can welcome the Kingdom as good news then we are required to be converted to it. The parables of the Kingdom always invite us, explicitly or otherwise, to a change of attitude and to a new behaviour. So when the Lord describes the scene of the Last Judgement everything to do with the Kingdom is centred on the need for love: "Come, you whom my Father has blessed... for I was hungry and you gave me food..." (Mt. 25:31-46).
The cures Jesus performs are themselves the signs of how free God's love is. Nevertheless Jesus often says, "Your faith has saved you", and in this way he underlines a part of the cure which is also an important element in his picture of the Kingdom. He emphasises the faith of the one who is cured, that is the active and free participation of the person for whom the Kingdom is being made present. Moreover, on more than one occasion Jesus reproaches his disciples for their lack of faith, at those moments where they have not grasped the point of the visible signs.
The Reign of God then requires this deep-down movement of freedom which opens out into trust and love: it is a movement of "conversion". If there is any evidence at all for the beneficial nature of God's Reign then it is surely this, that it leaves us free and does not compel us. The human part in the conversion process is important, and freedom is left intact.
The conversion called for does not give any right to salvation. The Kingdom is not some kind of conquest that we make through our actions. We cannot buy God. The Kingdom is a free initiative. "Go to the cross-roads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding" says the master to the servants (Mt. 22:8). And St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says that it is God who makes the seed grow (ICor 3:6-9), it is God's initiative and work, even if we are the ones who do the watering.
This kind of outlook keeps us from falling into the temptation of trying to pressure people in any way.
A Reality Which Opens Out To The Universal
Most of the spiritual movements that Jesus could have known in his time were directed towards what we might call today a faithful clientele, so that those who were capable received a formation which gradually gave them their own identity and separated them from other movements and from people in general. This is, in fact, a natural tendency which we can still find today. Jesus, however, resolutely goes out to everyone, and repeatedly goes against the tendencies of his own followers which would have held him back. "Let us go elsewhere", he says, and off he goes, travelling all through Palestine. Although the crowds in each place try to keep him with them, he has not come to search out the clever and educated but is driven from within himself to reach out to everyone. Universality is part and parcel of the make-up of the Reign of God and it has no suggestion of exclusiveness. And though we can see in Jesus a certain preference for creating around him a close community, it is a community immediately sent out as apostles (meaning "those who have been sent") with the good news of God's universal love, to which they must witness by their presence, word and action.
A Reality Which Is Present And Still To Come
When will the Kingdom come? This has been a vexing question all through history.
The whole message of Jesus is inspired by hope for the coming of the Reign of God. This hope is valid both for the present and the future. It is impossible to think only of a realisation of the Kingdom in the present, just as one cannot put off everything that concerns its coming to the future alone. The Kingdom is already here, wherever we love the values of justice and goodness, dignity and right relationships, in peace and unity.. "It is very near to you". This saying runs through the message of Jesus like a leitmotiv. But at the same time Jesus speaks of this Kingdom with reference to a harvest which is yet to come (Mk. 4:8), a mustard seed which will grow one day into the biggest of shrubs (Mk. 4:30-32), a final feast for which people shall come from East and West (Mt. 8:11ff).
[Taken from "Being Church in the World of Today" Notebook 3 of Community Spirituality International Commission of the Promoting Group of Movement for a Better World (MBW)]