There’s a story of an ancient monastery that had fallen on hard times. From a brotherhood that used to have more than 50 monks, there were less than a dozen left. The monastery used to be central to the life of the village, with saintly monks inspiring the people, yet now few people visited the monastery to find spiritual nourishment. A general feeling of spiritual apathy and lukewarmness was present in the monastery, and in the village.
One day a holy spiritual elder who was passing through the village. He stopped at the monastery and stayed for a night. During his time there, each of the monks privately went to receive his blessing, to talk with him as well as to receive some spiritual nourishment. With each monk that came to the elder, he said the same thing. “Don’t tell anyone else this, but the Messiah is among you. He has come again, and dwells among you.”
The next morning the elder left, but each monk kept thinking about the perplexing words the elder had told him. The Messiah is among you. As they reflected more and more on this, they kept asking themselves, “Who is it? Is it Fr. John? Or is it Fr. Stavro? Or is it Fr. James?”
As the monks went about their daily work, whenever they passed one another, they began to act a little differently. “What if the Messiah is this brother?” And they began to treat each other with sincere respect and love, with deep humility and kindness. They listened carefully to each another and tried to outdo one other in their service and diakonia in the monastery as well as in the local village. In their daily liturgical services, they prayed fervently and opened their hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit. They believed the Messiah was in their midst, and they wanted to act accordingly.
Slowly, the spirit of the monastery changed. An inner fire and spiritual zeal replaced any apathy and indifference. A community of love, divine love, developed and this agape love became very apparent to the village at large. The villagers started to flock to the monastery for spiritual nourishment and guidance, experiencing the reality of the kingdom of God.
The Messiah was in their midst.
+ + +
We hear something similar in the Gospel reading from Matthew 4:16-17: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light… Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The kingdom of God is at hand! In other words, the kingdom of God is present, here and now! It is not some far off reality we must wait for. Heaven is not some future dream. The kingdom of God, the reign of God, is something we can experience here and now!
Do we realize this truth? Have we opened our lives to experience this Good News in our daily lives? If we truly understand and believe this reality, it can have the same impact in our lives that the message of the “Messiah in their midst” had for the ancient monastery and village. It changes the way we understand our present life and reality!
The kingdom of God is something we can taste and experience in our lives right now, TODAY! This first message Jesus proclaimed after His baptism and at the beginning of His public ministry was Good News – “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Repent – turn away from the lies and deception of the world.
Repent – turn away from any superficial pursuits which leave us empty and seeking for something with more meaning and purpose.
Repent – turn away from the darkness of arrogance, hatred, envy, pride, division, jealousy
Repent – turn away from anything that is not of God, and be filled with His presence!
Repent – turn away from all that leads to death and turn towards the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is at hand means God’s reign should rule over our lives. We must allow divine love to be the guiding principle in all we do. We must cultivate mercy and forgiveness to be the spirit that governs all our relationships. We must strive for kindness and compassion as the fruit we show to every person we encounter. We must humble serve one another and make this our goal in life, humbling and graciously serving the lowliest and the least of our brothers and sisters.
When we allow God to reign in our lives each day, we actually begin to experience the Kingdom of heaven and our lives will be transformed! In fact, the lives of everyone around us will encounter this heavenly kingdom and they will be changed as well. Just as the ancient monastery became an oasis of divine love which offered life-giving water to the village around, our experience of the kingdom of God as a present reality in our lives will transform our worldview and the way we taste everything in life. Our lives will change and the world around us will change because of us!
The kingdom of heaven is not some pie-in-the-sky dream that we hope to experience only after we die. Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is at hand! The kingdom of God is within us! The kingdom of God is a reality we can live today!
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light… Light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
May we all allow the divine light of Jesus Christ to shine brightly in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives, and as we allow His light to chase away all the darkness within, we will then begin to experience the kingdom of heaven as a present reality!
If we know that the Messiah is in our midst, we will also experience the kingdom of heaven at hand!