“Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!”
The “Kingdom of God” is one of those phrases that sort of pops up in the New Testament. Jesus uses the expression numerous times, along with “kingdom of heaven.”
But it didn’t come from nowhere. Like baptism – another biblical item that seems to pop up on the scene – there is an Old Testament background for it. Obviously the Old Testament was all about “kingdoms,” namely the kingdom of David. But does it ever talk about a “kingdom of God”? And if so, what’s going on with it?
The reason this is an interesting question is because the reality of the kingdom of God seems to be assumed in this week’s Gospel. It was some “rando” (as all the kids say) who popped up and said, “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” This may have been a Pharisee. Who knows. In any case, he references something that was in no way random, but had some sort of currency in the minds of those around him.
The first reference in the Bible where it’s suggested God has a kingdom is in these words the Lord intended for David, “He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.”
These words are enormously important as far as Biblical theology goes. In those words you have the Trinity, the basis of the confession of Jesus as the Christ the Son of God, the idea that God is a Father. You have hints of the ascension and resurrection, in the term “forever,” but also in the “He shall build Me a house,” a house we learn from John was Christ’s own body. You have mercy and forgiveness, that Jesus would remain an eternal intercessor before the throne of God.
It’s all there! And Jesus unpacked its mysteries for us, teaching the fatherhood of God, teaching His role as Son, teaching what the house He would build is (the Church, His body), teaching the extent of the mercy the Lord would not “take away” from Him. Truly blessed is He who eats bread in this kingdom!
The Psalms are loaded with references to God’s kingdom. Here, the focus is more on the Lord’s universal reign over the whole earth. Serving as a good backdrop to this week’s Gospel are these climactic verses to Psalm 22: “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’s, And He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive.”
Yes, the poor (like the man with dropsy that serves as the context for this week’s Gospel about the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind) will eat bread in God’s Kingdom. Notably, among the poor who will eat and be satisfied include “those who go down to the dust” and “even he who cannot keep himself alive.”
That sounds a bit like all of us!
For those wondering where we get the line “we bless you” in the Gloria in Excelsis, another Psalm referencing the Kingdom of God explains why. “The LORD has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, Who excel in strength, who do His word, Heeding the voice of His word. Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, You ministers of His, who do His pleasure.”
Another Psalm reference nicely backing up the “eating bread in the kingdom” theme is from Psalm 145: “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD upholds all who fall, And raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look expectantly to You, And You give them their food in due season. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
Beautiful in that Psalm are these words: “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.”
Isaiah has several references to the Kingdom of God, most notably the “unto us a Child is born” text, and Daniel has a lot of material on the Kingdom of God, as the successor kingdom to all the kingdoms of the earth. Daniel emphasizes how the Messiah will have an everlasting kingdom. He also adds this nice detail: “Then the kingdom and dominion, And the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, Shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And all dominions shall serve and obey Him.”
As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Also, that the disciples would be sitting on twelve thrones, ruling along with Him.
So what does all this material add up to, concerning the Kingdom of God?
The Kingdom of God will be ruled by a king (obviously) in the line of David, a Son of God to whom God would be a Father – so, Creed (confession of the Holy Trinity). This king would build a house, a kingdom that would topple every other kingdom, in which the poor – including those who have died – would be satisfied with food and bread – so, Church, ministry, absolution, communion, and resurrection. It’s a place where the ones who cry out to the Lord are lifted up, so, Kyrie. This king would sit between the cherubim (this is from Isaiah, not yet referenced) and be blessed – so, Gloria in Excelsis and Sanctus. It would be near to them that invoke the name of the Lord – so, Invocation.
Here’s another good example where a study on a Biblical theme yields a great bulk of the liturgy. Much like the “New Song,” the historic liturgy emerges from a survey of the Biblical material on the topic. The Kingdom of God is the Church in liturgy, gathering around the bread that Jesus gives, His flesh.
And really, what is the liturgy but, “blessed are those who eat bread in the kingdom of God.”?