By Bishop Robert O’Neill
The spiritual journey is nothing if it is not a continual process of discovering the deepest reality of our lives.
Salvation, Jesus says, is not actually a matter of “getting into heaven”—a reward for a life of good behavior. It is instead something “at hand”—a divine and dynamic relationship with all that is divinely created and divinely connected already—here and now.
Think about it.
This kingdom—this way of being in relationship, of seeing and experiencing and responding to all of life—Jesus says is “at hand.” It is not “out there” or “over the far horizon.” It is, according to Jesus, a present, immediate, accessible realm in which absolute love reigns absolutely. This kingdom is limitless. It has no boundaries, and consequently, in this divine kingdom, there is no “in” or “out” just One who is Life—the One Love, as Paul would put it, who is “above all, and in all, and through all.”
Our life’s work—indeed the whole purpose of our spiritual practice and discipline—is both to uncover this gift that is hidden in the heart of life and, at the same time, to refuse steadfastly to lose sight of this reality even in the face of the overwhelming suffering and violence of our world. This is our work and our witness.
Not surprisingly, Jesus’ teaching works particularly well here.
The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a treasure buried in a field. The kingdom of God, he says, is hidden, out of view, submerged beneath the surface of our life. I would imagine that while this treasure may have been set aside and covered up originally in a foot or two of dirt, so to speak, this treasure is now covered with layer upon layer of sediment—cumulative deposits of centuries of human conflict and violence. No wonder it is so difficult to see. This divine reality, Jesus explains, is something that we all walk right by. We walk around it. We walk upon it. We step on and over this Love all the time without ever seeing it. Even so, Jesus says, this divine reality is still there, still the treasure of a lifetime buried in the heart of human existence.
The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is just waiting for someone, anyone, to stop, to take the time to start digging, to take the risk and to have the courage to look more deeply beneath the surface. When we do, Jesus says, there are riches beyond measure to be discovered.
Or, Jesus says, this kingdom is like a great pearl. The divine love that is the very essence of all life, he teaches, is a hard and lustrous reality with a beauty beyond imagination. But it remains hidden, so to speak, within the heart of our experience. The true beauty of all human life, the real splendor of all creation, is still something unseen, still something encased, even locked away, in the rough and hard and sharp edges of our all-too-incarnate world. The true radiance and wealth of all life, he says, is hidden from view, waiting to be cracked open and discovered by anyone who will dare to imagine that in this life, here and now, there is Life—infinitely more beautiful than meets the eye, just waiting for any who are willing to take hold of an otherwise hard and unattractive casing in order to crack it open and discover the beauty within.
The kingdom of God constitutes the very core of the good news that Jesus proclaims from the beginning. It is near, he says. It is at hand. It is here. It is among us. It is within us. This kingdom, Jesus teaches, is so good, so significant, so important, so essential, so limitless, so enduring, and of such worth, that it is to be sought first and foremost, above all other things, here and now.
“Seek this first,” Jesus says, in effect. “It is yours to discover. It is the gift of a lifetime, really—and not just for you but for all.”
I wonder. What will you choose to do this Lent to clear away the sediment of your life so you might discover something more of the divine treasure that is already there? What will you do this Lent to embrace the hard, jagged edges of this world’s suffering—either yours or that of others, in your community or in this world—in order to crack it open and reveal the life, indeed the Love, that is already waiting to be discovered there?
This is our life’s work, our life’s witness, even our salvation.