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Kingless Kingdoms and Disappointing Desires - Thirteenth Sunday of Matthew

You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.
- St. Augustine of Hippo

The first time I remember consciously feeling desire for truth, beauty, and goodness, the inheritance of Gods Kingdom, was when I was a young boy and my mom read me C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy. Whenever my mom would come across the main character’s name, Shasta, she would replace it with my own. So instead of hearing about a horse and his boy, the story became about a horse and this boy.

By inserting me into the story, even if only nominally, my mother instilled in me a sense that I was, in fact, a citizen of Narnia. My heart had been shaped within the wardrobe, so to speak, and my desire had been activated. And it never really faded. Even as I watched the movies as an adult, I wept as the children walked out of the moth-ball-filled furniture and stepped onto the beautiful snowscape of Aslan’s realm.

In some sense, I felt like I was finally home.

But I wasn’t. Because Narnia isn’t real.

It’s a fictional place described in an artistic narrative that masterfully relates an experience of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s Kingdom. Even though it is fictional, there’s a truth to it that touched something in my heart. The Chronicles of Narnia gave me a taste of eternity. Those books were hors d’oeuvres, which whet my appetite for the joy of communing eternally with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Himself.

Because my heart doesn’t long for a lion; it longs for Christ.

Unfortunately, though an appetizer is meant to prepare us for the main course, we can easily fill up on it. Similarly, I find that I often gorge on experiences, and satisfy myself with immediate gratification rather than something deeper and longer-lasting, chasing desires that are incapable of truly fulfilling my deepest longings.

And I’m sure I’m not alone.

Last week, we learned of a young man who came to Christ desiring eternal life. I suggested that perhaps he wanted Christ not for Christs sake, but for his own sake - he wanted Christ for what Christ could offer him: the stuff that had become the object of his desire.

The reading ends with the young man leaving Christ with his head down, having been asked to do something he believes to be impossible. This refusal of Christ’s invitation is as tame as it is disappointing. This week, however, we hear a more dramatic parable about a householder who leaves a group of murderous tenants to watch over his vineyard.

When the householder wants to collect the fruits of the season, he sends his servants to the house to do so. The tenants then kill the servants to claim the wealth as their own, and so the householder sends his own son to collect, assuring himself saying, “They will respect my son" (Matt. 21:37)

Upon seeing the son, however, the tenants say, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance" (Matt. 21:38). So they kill him.

All because they want the inheritance.

Unlike the young man from last week, the tenants dont want the heir for the sake of his wealth. They dont want the heir they dont want Christ at all.

And they were ready to kill him.

Often, my spiritual life is dedicated to desiring an inheritance, to wanting something from God, rather than wanting God Himself. Like the young man last week, my idea of God’s goodness is largely dependent on what I believe He can give me. But this week gives me pause and makes me wonder even more deeply: am I one of the tenants?

Do I also try to kill God? Do I wish to not only use Him but to also do away with Him, to have His good things without Him altogether?

Now, I don’t think that many of us would label ourselves idolaters, but I wonder how many of us seek Gods good things apart from God? In some sense, don’t we all want goodness, truth, and beauty? Arent we all looking for peace? For security? For fulfillment? Aren’t we all looking to become “inheritors of the kingdom?”

Where does God figure in these desires?

The scriptures tell us that God has set “eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecc. 3:11), giving us an internal compass to navigate us toward the only One who is capable of fulfilling that desire for eternity. Unfortunately, our hearts attach to temporal things, and we look to give those things eternal significance. And so we may, accidentally or not, find that we want eternity without the Eternal One.

We want the good life apart from the Good One.

And isn’t that essentially what idolatry is all about?

We try to take the inheritance of the peace, security, and joy of God’s Kingdom without allowing ourselves to be encountered by the living Christ.

We avoid Christ many ways. We numb our pain with addictions. We set up kingdoms for ourselves with large bank accounts. We seek fulfillment with exciting purchases that promise to complete our lives. But none of these things will satisfy. Because they aren’t eternal.

To quote C.S. Lewis:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.[1]

And yet how easy it is to desire those earthly things, to want the kingdom without the King, to want the inheritance, but not the heir. We all have, to some degree or another, replaced Christ with a god of our own making. But to do this, to cleave our hearts to something that stands opposed to Christ is to set ourselves up for a tiring, restless life.

We are looking for eternal meaning in something that will fade.

We are dooming ourselves to a lifetime of disappointment.

This Sunday we are called to reconsider the heir. We may look elsewhere from time to time, seeking to find our fulfillment in things that will ultimately never fulfill. But this week the Church invites us to reconsider the stone that the builders refused and make Him the cornerstone of our lives, because only He can give us what we most deeply long for: Himself.

 

[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952), p. 137, emphasis mine.

Photo Credit:

Appetizers: glenn mcdonald via Compfight cc

Vineyard: Kevin Patrick Robbins via Compfight cc

Pantocrator: phool 4 XC via Compfight cc

Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.

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