Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. —Matthew 7:21
If we try to make the church into the kingdom of God, we create idolatry. I suspect that is what Jesus means by the “Lord, Lord” line. If we try to make this world itself into the kingdom, we will always be resentful and disappointed. If we make heaven into the kingdom, we miss most of its transformative message. We are not waiting for the coming of an ideal church or any perfect world here and now, or even just for the next world. The kingdom is more than all of these. It is always here and not here. It is always now and not yet. No institution can encompass it. That is rather clear in the texts where Jesus describes the kingdom. All false religion proceeds in a certain sense from one illusion. When people say piously, “Thy kingdom come” out of one side of their mouth, they need also to say, “My kingdom go!” out of the other side. The kingdom of God supersedes and far surpasses all kingdoms of self and society or personal reward.
As Jesus says in another place, “No one can serve two masters, he will always love one and ignore the other” (Matthew 6:24). Our first and final loyalty is to one kingdom: God’s or our own. We really can’t fake it. The Big Picture is apparent when God’s work and will is central, and we are happy to take our place in the corner of the frame. This is “doing the will of my Father in heaven” and allows the larger theater of life and love to unfold.
I believe Jesus was teaching a larger version of what many of us say today when we say that we must “think globally and act locally.” Because I am a part of the Big Picture, I do matter and substantially so. Because I am only a part, however, I am rightly situated off to stage right—and happily so. What freedom there is in such truth! We are inherently important and included, yet not burdened with manufacturing or sustaining that private importance. Our dignity is given by God, and we are freed from ourselves!
Yet it gets bigger and better because the proclamation of the kingdom of God frees us from social idolatries too. We can’t keep saying “Thy kingdom come” when we are actually trusting in our own nations, political parties, militaries, banks and institutions to save us. On some level, they have to be relativized too if the Big Kingdom is ever going to come, which is why Pope John Paul II so often spoke of “structural sin” and “institutional evil.” We might “use” the systems of this world, I hope wisely, but we never “believe” in them. We only believe in God! Any universal church, any truly “catholic” people should be first in line to understand this: “Come, Lord Jesus” means we do not spend too much time trusting that other “Lordships” will ever finally save us.
What “kingdoms” do you need to let go of before you can enjoy the kingdom of heaven?