We all endeavor to build our kingdom in this world.
This has always been the temptation of man since the days of old. Even Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted by the Devil in the desert to build His own kingdom when He began His ministry. (cf Mt 4:1-11
) He was tempted to use His power to seek the pleasures of the world when the devil asked Him to change the stones into bread. He was tempted to show forth His power by throwing Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple so that people would fear and respect Him. Finally, He was tempted to glory and riches when the devil “took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor;
and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’” (Mt 4:8f
We too are tempted constantly like Jesus. Firstly, we desire more power to control people. We like positions and offices so that the people will respect us and think well of us. We think powerful people are loved when they are often feared! Of course, those of us who suffer from low self-esteem need to feel great and powerful. That is why there are some who desire the power of authority. Alas, the most powerful people on this earth are the ones that need the most number of security guards. They lose their freedom to go anywhere they like for fear of being recognized and be swamped by their fans and paparazzi or attacked by their enemies.
Secondly, we seek the glory, prestige and splendor of wealth and the things of this life. We desire money, gold and the best things in life. We like to wear beautiful clothes so that people will admire us. We think that with money there is security. We think that with money, all will be well with us and we will not have any more sufferings in life. Alas, the more money we have, the more insecure we become. We have to worry about how to handle and make our money grow. We will worry about being cheated, killed and robbed. We will no longer have true friends because most of our friends will be fair weather friends.
Thirdly, we seek to live a life of pleasure. People think that eating, drinking and merrymaking is what happiness is all about. We think that if we can eat and drink all day, we will be satisfied and be happy. Alas, we fail to realize that there is only so much we can eat, otherwise we will die of high cholesterol and ill health. Furthermore, anything that is excessive becomes a routine and loses its taste and colour. Then we need to start looking for better food and better facilities for enjoyment because there is a saturation point when the things of this world cannot satisfy us.
The first reading warns us that all these do not last. As soon we attain power, glory and pleasure, we will lose them. Prophet Daniel’s interpretation of the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar shows that no matter how powerful and rich you are, the power and glory you have cannot last. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar was the golden head of the statue (606-539 B.C.) His empire began to disintegrate after his death. After him, the silver chest and two arms represented the Medo-Persian empire, which conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. The third kingdom, symbolized by the belly and thighs of bronze, represented Greece and Macedonia, established by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C. Finally, the last kingdom, symbolized by the iron legs, represented Rome, which conquered the Greeks in 63 B.C. This was the most powerful kingdom that subdued the world beyond what other empires ever did. Yet, in spite of its power, the Roman Empire was eventually broken up because the territory that Rome ruled was a mixture of weak and strong nations, symbolized by the feet of clay and iron mixed together. The stronger nationalist states resisted the Roman rule and managed to last a longer time but the weaker ones fell.
Such is the reality of history, the vicissitudes of joy and sorrow, failure and success, triumph and disgrace; of life and death. Regardless how powerful we are, kingdoms will rise and fall. No earthly kingdom can last forever. We have seen this at work in history. Yet, we never learn from history. We deceive ourselves into thinking that our achievements, power, glory and wealth will last forever. This is utterly not true. Our wealth does not stay with the family for more than three generations. All the hard work and accumulation of our wealth will be spent by ingrates who care nothing for the pains and sufferings we went through to make the money. Our health will not last either. We will not always be strong and alert. We too have to give up power and our offices, and if we live long enough, we will suffer from dementia or some other illnesses and be cared for like a child.
Even what we build will be undone by future generations regardless how beautiful it is. A case in point is the Temple of Jerusalem. “When some were talking about the Temple, remarking how it was adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘All these things you are staring at now – the time will come when not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.’” Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple which historically happened in 70 A.D. by the Romans. It is significant that this Second Temple that was built by Ezra after the return from exile in the sixth century B.C. was further expanded by King Herod over a 46 year period. Even such a majestic monument of great beauty could not survive the ravages of war and history. So let us not think too highly of our achievements. As Qoheleth remarked, “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Eccl 1:14) Indeed, after death, we would just be a name in history, if ever history remembers us. History will continue to move relentlessly forward to the goal that God has set for the world.
The greatest tragedy is that we never learn from history. “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.” (Eccl 1:9-11) We are so blinded by our daily pursuits and problems, fears and anxieties that we do not see the truth of life. We continue to chase after the wind.
What will last is the Kingdom of God. This was what God revealed to Daniel. “In the time of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, and this kingdom will not pass into the hands of another race: it will shatter and absorb all the previous kingdoms, and itself last for ever – just as you saw the stone untouched by hand break from the mountain and shatter iron, bronze, earthenware, silver and gold.” God’s kingdom will withstand the end of time. God’s kingdom will come at a time when we least expect. This is what the Lord is teaching us. The Kingdom could come upon us suddenly when we die or it will come at the end of world history. It will come but it is beyond the control of man. No one can prevent its coming because no man can escape death.
So let us not be too worried when we hear of evils and sufferings or the success and prosperity of evil men. They will eventually be destroyed. Those who do evil will be overcome by evil at the end. Neither should we be worried too much about the happenings of this world, the tragedies and the wars. They are part of the whole process of purification of humanity in love. So let us remember that all things are passing. All evils will be conquered by Christ and death included. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:26)
So what will last? The Constitution of the Church in the Modern World says, “Enduring with charity and its fruits, all that creation which God made on man’s account will be unchained from the bondage of vanity. Therefore, while we are warned that it profits a man nothing if he gain the whole world and lose himself, the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one. For here grows the body of a new human family, a body which even now is able to give some kind of foreshadowing of the new age. For after we have obeyed the Lord, and in His Spirit nurtured on earth the values of human dignity, brotherhood and freedom, and indeed all the good fruits of our nature and enterprise, we will find them again, but freed of stain, burnished and transfigured, when Christ hands over to the Father: ‘a kingdom eternal and universal, a kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love and peace.’ On this earth that Kingdom is already present in mystery. When the Lord returns it will be brought into full flower.” (GS 39) Indeed, God is in charge of this world because He is our creator of heaven and earth. “All things the Lord has made, bless the Lord. Give glory and eternal praise to him!”