A Kingdom of God Story – Br. Nicholas Bartoli

Br. Nicholas BartoliLuke 17:20–25

With all the many different metaphors and stories of Jesus trying to explain the Kingdom of God in the gospels, it seems like it was a very difficult idea to get across to people. Sometimes we’re told it’s coming really soon, or here already. Sometimes we’re told who gets in, “the poor in spirit,” for example. We read that it’s like a mustard seed, like scattering seed on the ground, like a treasure, like hiring men in a vineyard, like a royal wedding banquet — and the list goes on. The gospel story today has Jesus describing the Kingdom of God as not like a thing that can be observed at all, but as something else that’s already among us.

The bible translation we used today includes a footnote on the word “among,” which tells us that the original Greek word entos (ἐντός) could mean “within,” as in “the Kingdom of God is within you.” There’s a lot of scholarly debate about this, some of it interesting, most it pretty dry and mind-numbing. The take-home message seems to be that we can go either way, each interpretation saying something important about the Kingdom of God. So it could be that the Kingdom of God means something within us, like perhaps a new kind of awareness in our hearts of God’s loving embrace. Or it could be something among us like sharing Christ’s love somehow in the world. In truth, it’s just very hard to say what it’s like, which is probably why there are so many different stories about the Kingdom of God in the gospels, but it does remind me of a part of my own story.

In 2011 my father, Angelo, was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It felt like a death sentence, and it was. He suffered the pain and frustration of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for about a year, until we decided as a family that the time for treating the cancer was over. I was living in Colorado at the time, but I returned home to Brooklyn whenever I could to help take care of him.

My father was big into watching sports; me, not so much. His favorite by a pretty wide margin was hockey, and he was about as big a Rangers fan as you could get. On one of my later visits we were sitting together in the den watching a game between the Rangers and the Bruins, and I found myself wishing I had been more of a hockey fan growing up, anything to have spent more time with him. As we were watching he did something I didn’t remember him ever doing, he reached out and he held my hand tenderly in his.

My father very rarely complained about pain, but we hadn’t increased his morphine dose in a while, and as he held my hand, he shared in a despondent way that everything hurt. Everything just hurt and nothing was good anymore. My heart trembled at that, and feeling a little silly, but also like I had to offer something, I asked “what about the top of your head?” He just replied “I don’t know.” So I placed my hand gently on the top of his head, slowly and softly massaging his scalp. It felt like a risk since I wasn’t sure how he would react. I asked “How does that feel?” Something in him seemed to release a little when he answered, as his eyes filled with tears. “It’s good,” he said. “Yeah, that feels good.” And then we just shared the stillness for a while in front of the glow of the television.

At the risk of adding just one more metaphor to the mix, maybe the Kingdom of God is like watching a hockey game with your father, sharing an intimate and beautiful moment together. Maybe it’s among us, like the offering of a loving caress. Or within us, like an awareness of that goodness and love through a veil of pain and suffering.

No one can say for sure. The one thing I can tell you, though, is that if you find a metaphor or a story that works for you, that feels true and bears the fruit of God’s love in your heart, I’d give that preference.

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  1. Fred Adams on November 24, 2021 at 13:58

    So beautiful, and what’s more, meaningful. Thanks for the sharing, for the beauty…remembering my Dad too. Thanks. Br. Nicholas.

  2. Sally Baynton on November 24, 2021 at 11:26

    Thank you, Brother Nick, for giving clarity to an often confusing term. I think the Kingdom lies within us. How and why…I’ll search for that for the rest of my life.

    • Br. Franklin Kline OP on November 24, 2021 at 12:48

      B r. Nick, Thank you for sharing a kingdom moment with us

  3. Laura on November 24, 2021 at 10:02

    Thank you for this today. I lost my mother to stage IV lung cancer, and was grateful to share many sweet moments in her last days.

    This morning, I woke up laughing at myself in a silly dream. As a 2nd year postulant for episcopal priesthood, it’s just what I needed, taking myself and everything else too seriously. Maybe just too much grief, snobbishness. I listened to your sermon and thought, the Kingdom of Heaven is a good laugh, at myself!

  4. Patricia on November 24, 2021 at 07:05

    Brother Nicholas

    If God is within us and we live in the way of Christ ( a big if) then won’t God also be among us? It is no longer an either or. It is both. But most of all I am so pleased you encourage us to find something that works for us.

    I am sorry for you loss. And I am sorry that you father suffered at all. But how comforting to know God was within you and you shared that love with your father to help ease his pain. Beautiful. Touching. Poignant. Reflective. Lovely. May we all have moments when we are able to lessen someone’s pain and live Gods tenderness.

    • Doug Dunlap on November 25, 2021 at 08:20

      Brother Nicholas, this is so very moving! The sacredness in everyday moments!
      I am deeply touched – and deeply grateful.

  5. Martin Wheeler on November 24, 2021 at 06:00

    “In” and “among”, I suppose, and much more. You point to that “more” in the story of you and your dad … so moving and profound.
    Thank you, Br. Nicholas.

    • Craig Kolins on November 24, 2021 at 11:21

      Martin: absolutely much much more. Your comment to Br. Nicholas moved me profoundly today just like Br. Nicholas’s caring touch on his father’s head. Respectfully, Craig Kolins

  6. Annmarie on January 29, 2015 at 10:26

    Very beautiful Nick, I am glad we had that time to spend with Dad. .I always wanted to take his pain away…I even asked God to give me his pain if he would give him peace. And in my heart I know our Dad enjoyed every moment with him pain or no pain. He is my hero and never leaves my mind or heart. Thank you.

  7. Mom Bartoli on November 14, 2014 at 14:42

    WONDERFUL, Nick. im glad you had that time with dad.

  8. Selina from Maine on November 13, 2014 at 20:14

    Very moving Brother Nicholas. Thank you.

  9. Eben Carsey on November 13, 2014 at 16:43

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  10. Ruth West on November 13, 2014 at 15:34

    This was good, Br. Nicholas. You covered the bases very well. The Kingdom of God is a mystery, but there’s no better way to explain it than the way you have. May God bless you.

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