Ask a Franciscan

God’s Kingdom: What Is It?

The Lord’s Prayer contains the phrase “Thy kingdom come.” Jesus also says, “For behold, the kingdom of God is among you” (Lk 17:21). John the Baptist urges people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2). Does kingdom here refer to a place, a church, a new culture based on the beatitudes, or any situation in which the presence of Jesus is experienced? I would like to better understand what I am asking God the Father to bring forth when I recite this prayer.  

Praying “Thy kingdom come” says, in effect, “God, help me to be willing to live by your values, especially when this is extremely difficult.” This prayer is not a reminder for God to do something but rather a reminder for whoever prays it to open their hearts more widely to divine grace and then to act on it. God’s kingdom will indeed come—with or without the cooperation of any person saying this prayer. 

Throughout history, various Christian groups have seen themselves as establishing God’s kingdom on earth. No such group has ever been entirely successful. Why? Sin is very real and can always be found among Christ’s followers, always trying to disguise itself as something good. 

Does that mean that we should give up on trying to make more room in our hearts for God’s kingdom? By no means! Every time someone gives up trying to improve on God’s values and instead accepts them wholeheartedly as “normal,” the kingdom of God is being more deeply established. The greatest saints (canonized or not) have always known that every sin is built on a series of lies. 

St. Peter was not promoting God’s kingdom when he denied even knowing Jesus (Jn 18:15–18 and 25–27). When Peter made his threefold confession of repentance (Jn 21:15–19), he was finally moving in the right direction regarding God’s kingdom. Peter needed to make daily decisions to keep on the right path. The kingdom of God grows whenever someone accepts, at progressively deeper levels, God’s definition of “normal.” 

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