Monday, May 16, 2005

Kingdom of Heaven

"What does the Kingdom of Heaven resemble? To what shall I liken it? It is the mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and because the largest shrub..." (Luke 13:18-19)

Near the end of the movie Kingdom of Heaven, Saladin tells Orlando Bloom's character Balian that Jerusalem is both "nothing" and "everything." Poor Jerusalem.

It is "everything" for so many people: For Balian it means a chance at atonement for his sins. For Saladin and the Crusaders, it is defending or reclaiming the holy sites. For King Baldwin (the leper king, played by Edward Norton) and Godfrey (Balian's father, played by Liam Neeson), it is a hope for a "New Jerusalem," a Kingdom of Heaven.

How sad, though, that after battles and battles, it becomes a heap of stones signifying "nothing." No one really won Jerusalem then. No one really wins Jerusalem now, as seen on CNN.

The "New Jerusalem" dream of Godfrey and the King is something we can still dream of today. The Kingdom of Heaven is a reference to the many passages of Scripture where Jesus teaches about the "Reign of God." Many parables illustrate the beauty of this once and future kingdom. And this kingdom is not set by our rules, but by God's rules. There is one line in the movie where two people dialogue about the execution of a Muslim; one person reminds the other that it is our rules that demand his death for being an infidel; the other person wonders aloud if these are really the rules that Christ forsaw for the Kingdom of Heaven.

There is much in this film about Muslim-Christian relations that would do us some real good at this moment in our history. Perhaps this is a necessary, cinematic wake-up call for greater interreligious dialogue between our two great Abrahamic faiths instead of all this constant fighting and crusading.

"Let peace begin with me," says St. Francis of Assisi. So if our governments and leaders cannot do it, then it is our own duty to begin the peace process.

In our communities, let us pray for and pray alongside with our Muslim neighbors. Let us sit down and begin an honest dialogue on faith. Let us work side by side in social justice projects and serving the poor.

In our own way, let us build a Kingdom of Heaven here. Let us be that mustard seed of which Jesus spoke.

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