Taking the Kingdom of Heaven by Force

Matthew 11:11-15
Is 41: 13-20/ Ps 145:1, 9-13

…the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force.
(Matthew 11:12)

Our voices shall not be silenced,
For justice and truth we shall stand;
Peace must overcome violence,
And God’s love will reign in our land.

Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; and yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, whose coming was predicted. Let anyone who has ears to hear listen.” (Matthew 11:11-15)

Reflection

Jesus conferred on St. John the Baptist the honor of being the greatest because he was the last prophet of the Old Testament whom the prophets predicted would prepare the way of the Lord. He was also the first herald in the New Testament to give witness to the anointed Lamb of God. He was in fact the first martyr of the violence that Jesus was talking about. But what did our Lord mean when He said the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than St. John the Baptist? Jesus was simply stressing the point that the kingdom of heaven is impregnable to all the evil and violence that are trying to take it by force. If King Herod, the greatest tyrant in Israel at that time, was unable to break the spirit and principles of St. John the Baptist, who was the least among God’s soldiers, how could any force on earth or hell ever hope to conquer the kingdom of heaven?

As Jesus had predicted, a long line of evil empires throughout history, wielding their might and power, would attempt, but fail to subdue or suppress the kingdom of God here on earth. Ironically, it would be the seekers of peace, the vanguards of truth and justice, with their principle of active non-violence, who would in the end prevail. God became man in our Lord Jesus Christ as the greatest personification of that ideal, and He commissioned His cousin, St. John to presage it. History is full of the lives of many advocates who successfully followed the way of the cross. St. Thomas More, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jose Rizal, Mandela of South Africa are some of the more notable advocates of peace and non-violence.

One not so noted, but whose feast our Church celebrates today was St. Damasus I. Born in the year 306 in Rome, his life personified what our Lord prophesied as “the kingdom of heaven suffering violence, and men of violence taking it by force.” St. Damasus was a sixty-year-old deacon when he was elected pope in 366. From the beginning of his reign as Bishop of Rome, it was marked with violence, because another group had elected a different pope. Both sides tried to enforce their selections through violence. Although the physical fighting stopped, St. Damasus continued to struggle with these opponents throughout his years as pope. He also defended the Catholic faith against the Arians. He led a humble life, writing epigrams about the saints. He commissioned St. Jerome to translate the Scriptures from Greek to Latin, the Vulgate version of the Bible. He also worked to preserve the catacombs, the graves and relics of the martyrs.

Lord God, You gave us models like St. John the Baptist and St. Pope Damasus I to counter the myth that the power to change the world belongs to the mighty. Thank You for showing us that it is to the meek and the gentle, the persecuted, the humble of heart, and the peacemakers that Your kingdom truly belongs. Amen.

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