After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come […] Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town’ (v. 1-12).
The phrase, “the kingdom of God has come near” (which is also more popularly read as “the kingdom of God is at hand” because of the translation in the New American Bible) refers both to the presence of God on earth, as well as the actual kingdom of God in heaven.
When we speak of the kingdom of God in earthly terms we mean to say that (1) God walked among us in the person of Jesus Christ; (2) God remains with us in the person of the Holy Spirit, and (3) God is present to us in the Sacraments of the Holy Church. For our part, responding to the presence of the kingdom of God on earth means that we are bound to participate in the life of the Church (i.e. prayer and sacraments). As a result of such a bond, we are compelled to live the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; ransom the captive; and bury the dead.
When we speak of the kingdom of God in heavenly terms, we mean to say that (1) there is life after death, (2) heaven and hell exist, and (3) union with God for all eternity is our hope and our goal. For our part, we are inspired both to believe these things because of the testimony of those who witnessed the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, and to participate in the life of the Church (again, through prayer and the Sacraments). As a result of this deeply committed act of faith, we are compelled to live the spiritual works of mercy: instruct the ignorant; counsel the doubtful; admonish sinners; bear wrongs patiently; forgive offences willingly; comfort the afflicted; and pray for the living and the dead.
But there’s more to this than meets the eye. The importance of understanding the phrase “the kingdom of God” is revealed in the phrase that immediately follows it: “has come near” or “is at hand.” Why? Something is supposed to be happening immediately. But what is so urgent? God is always calling us into union with Him right now! Think about that. God walked the earth 2,000 years ago and those people back then had to act on faith and choose to follow Jesus. The same is true for us today: the Holy Spirit is literally in and around us and we must act on the gift of faith He gives us. From a different perspective, this phrase also implies that we are never too far from the kingdom of God because we never know when our lives are going to end, as individuals in the normal course of life or collectively at the Second Coming.
So during this Year of Faith, please ask yourself this: do I understand what is meant by the kingdom of God? Do I understand how real the kingdom of God is, both now and in death? Do I live my life with the urgency of knowing that the kingdom of God is “at hand”?
Let us pray for one another that we may live our lives with this kind of faith.