Third Luminous Mystery, The Preaching of the Kingdom

Anthony Zimmerman
November 26, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

Pope John Paul II explains in the Apostolic Letter "The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary" that the Third Luminous Mystery "is the preaching by which Jesus proclaims the coming of the Kingdom of God." He continues that it is especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation that Christ will forgive sins "until the end of the world". We can say that after the creation of the cosmos, the next most important work of God for us is the establishment on earth of the Kingdom of God in which there is forgiveness of sins and the opening of the door to heaven for mankind..

The Gospel of Mark tells how Christ began His preaching: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel". It means essentially: "I'm here, the one you have been waiting for. Listen to what I say and make the good news your new way of life."

What is the new Way? It is not the popular and false expectation of a Messiah who would establish a glorious political kingdom of conquest on earth. St. Luke tells how disappointed the townsmen of Nazareth were with Jesus when He didn't cure all the sick people there, nor do wonders like multiplying bread and fish. They may have looked for a call to arms to inaugurate a great world conquest. Luke relates that His words were gracious, testifying that Mary had been a good teaching Mother, and likely that conversation within the Holy Family had been noble and cultured. But Jesus sought faith from the people in Nazareth, but He did not find what He sought. Without faith, He could not work miracles that would only fuel notions about a political. Messiah. When Jesus chided them for lack of faith, they became so incensed that they tried to kill Him. Luke tells the story in his usual elegant style:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" And he said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'" And he said, "Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country (Luke 4:14-24)..

So why didn't Jesus cure lepers in Nazareth like He had done elsewhere, and why didn't He call down rain from heaven as Elijah had done, and raise some of the dead in Nazareth back to life? The reason He gave was that His townspeople did not believe that He was a prophet, that He was their Teacher and Savior. His message was not getting through to them. That's when they decided to throw Him down a cliff. Jesus did not struggle with them, He was above petty human folly. Luke states with an economy of words: "But passing through the midst of them he went away." Try to picture the scene. Were they standing impotent as though frozen to the spot, while He strode serenely through their midst, somewhat as the Israelites passed through the Red Sea with walls of water congealed on both sides?

Even John the Baptist had worldly expectations about the Messiah that needed to be corrected. When John was in jail, he became impatient with Jesus, asking whether He was really the expected Messiah or shall we wait for another. It was an attempt to prod Jesus into activity, more spectacular than what He was doing: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matt 11:2).

Jesus was gentle with John, but firm: "This is my way. Look at what I am doing. Don't be scandalized. Believe in me."

And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me" (Matt 11:4-6).

John would understand, we can believe. The miracles Jesus was performing gave people the proof they needed to believe that God was with Him. They also demonstrated the goodness and kindness of God, concerned about the bodily ailments of humans. Furthermore, John would understand the more subtle content of the response of Jesus. The spiritually blind are being blessed with faith, the spiritually lame receive new strength to walk in the way of the Lord, sinners are cleansed of the leprosy of sin, the dull of hearing become receptive to the faith, people dead spiritually because of sin arise to a new life of grace. Jesus admonished John to not be scandalized by the fact that He was not fulfilling the expectations of the populace that was awaiting a political Messiah.

Indeed, the message of the Kingdom of God is not about an earthly messianic wonder-world, but about heaven and the way of life by which to achieve heaven, and about hell and the way to avoid it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus explained how totally other is the manner of life in the Kingdom of God from the secular expectations of kingdoms of earth.

The word "blessed" in Christ's inaugural sermon signifies the inner joy of one who keeps company with God, which is worth more than bodily happiness and good feelings. It means participating in God's thoughts and making ourselves to be at peace with His Way for us, while relying on His help to do this.

Make the next world your goal, for this life passes away:

Edify your neighbor by giving good example: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Put the Kingdom of God before all your other cares: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

Be a people of peace: You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Luke 6:35-38).

One missionary in Japan made the Sermon on the Mount the heart of his instructions to catechumens preparing for Baptism. Learn that, he said, and you know what the Kingdom of God is all about. The Fathers of Vatican II made much of the saying of Mark 10:42: "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

John makes love for God and for neighbor be the chief message of the Gospel. For example: "When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you."

Christ promised that His way of life will transform society: He said, "To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened" (Luke 13:32-33). Where ever in the world peoples adopt Christianity as the predominant religion and culture, there we see an integrated civilization of love.

I grew up in a totally Catholic rural parish, Westphalia, Iowa, where the leaven of the Kingdom of God thoroughly impregnated the structures of society. There was kindness, there was honesty, there was a sense of responsibility, there was music in church and in the home. We never locked doors, we went to confession once a month, we fed on the Bread of the Word and on the Bread of Life. Father Duren, our long-time pastor, used to repeat that here the "world is at its best." Each new generation, however, needs to establish its own and proper civilization of love anew. Each person must strive to become a person who is thoroughly leavened with love, each family must cultivate the culture of Christian love, each parish, each municipality and nation needs to strive, not merely with human endeavor, but with faith, with obedience, with the help of the Sacraments and grace, to make the leaven of the Kingdom to become effective.

Christianity gives meaning to life, develops all the human virtues, makes us expect far more than the best of secular life. A Christian life has depth which secular life lacks. I remember that a newly baptized parent said to me, when burying his son, a seminarian, who died of Leukemia. He said: "If I had not become a Christian, I would not grieve as I do now." What he meant was that as a secular person he would not have wrestled so with thoughts such as "How can God do this to me?" As a secular he would have had the dull feeling that fate is inevitable, a machine, and we should look for nothing better. Formerly he had taken it for granted that there is no clear answer to the puzzles of life. But now he wanted an answer that is just and intelligible. Christianity develops depth of character in people, enriches lives, fosters a culture of love, of beauty, of universal solidarity, of loving family life, of all that is best in humanity. The Preface of the Feast of Christ the King sums up the Phenomenon of Christianity at its best:

An eternal and universal kingdom:
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.

We have yet to make the Kingdom universal, a task remaining to people of the third millennium, especially in Asia. By giving to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Christ made the Church to be the embodiment of His Kingdom until the end of time. When praying the Third Luminous Mystery, we join Mary in thanking Christ again and again for establishing on earth the flourishing civilization of love, the Kingdom of God that is realized most fully in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.