4.2 THE HYMN OF THE PEARL

I can hardly emphasize enough the enormous importance of understanding the differences between the points of view that follow. To help understand these important differences I quote freely in this discussion from The Gnostic Religion,44 by Hans Jonas and The Kingdom Within, by John Sanford.

The translation of the Pearl here presented is by A. Bevan and quoted from pages 113 to 116 of The Gnostic Religion. We begin with the "Hymn of the Pearl."

When I was a little child and dwelt in the kingdom of my Father's
house,and delighted in the wealth and splendour of those who raised me,
my parents sent me forth from the East, our homeland, with provisions for
the journey. From the riches of our treasure house they tied me a burden:
great it was, yet light, so that I might carry it alone.
They took off from me the robe of glory which in their love they
had made for me, and my purple mantle that was woven to conform exactly
to my figure, and made a covenant with me, and wrote it in my heart that
I might not forget it: "When thou goest down into Egypt and bringest
the One Pearl which lies in the middle of the sea which is encircled by
the snorting serpent, thou shalt put on again thy robe of glory and thy
mantle over it and with thy brother our next in rank be heir in our kingdom."
I left the East and took my way downwards, accompanied by two
royal envoys, since the way was dangerous and hard and I was young for
such a journey; I passed over the borders of Maishan, the gathering place
of the merchants of the East, and came into the land of Babel and entered
within the walls of Sarbug.
I went down into Egypt and my companions parted from me. I went
straightaway to the serpent and settled down close by his inn until he
should slumber and sleep so that I might take the Pearl from him.
Since I was one and kept to myself, I was a stranger to my fellow
dwellers in the inn. Yet saw I there one of my race, a fair and well favoured
youth, the son of anointed ones. He came and attached himself to me, and
I made him my trusted familiar to whom I imparted my mission.
[He?] warned [me?] against the Egyptians and the contact with
the unclean ones. Yet I clothed myself in their garments, lest they suspect
me as one coming from without to take the Pearl and arouse the serpent
against me.
But through some cause they marked that I was not their country
man and they ingratiated themselves with me, and mixed me [drink] with
their cunning, and gave me to taste of their meat; and I forgot that I
was a king's son and served their king. I forgot the Pearl for which my
parents had sent me. Through the heaviness of their nourishment I sank
into deep slumber.
All this befell me, my parents marked, and they were grieved for
me. It was proclaimed in our kingdom that all should come to our gates.
And the kings and grandees of Parthia and all the nobles of the East wove
a plan that I must not be left in Egypt. And they wrote a letter to me,and
each of the great ones signed it with his name.
"From thy father the King of Kings, and from thy mother, mistress
of the East, and from thy brother, our next in rank, unto thee, our son
in Egypt, greeting. Awake and rise up out of thy sleep, and perceive the
words of our letter.
"Remember that thou art a king's son: behold whom thou hast served
in bondage. Be mindful of the Pearl, for whose sake thou hast departed
into Egypt.
"Remember thy robe of glory, recall thy splendid mantle, that
thou mayest put them on and deck thyself with them and thy name be read
in the book of the heroes and thou become with thy brother, our deputy,heir
in our kingdom."
Like a messenger was the letter that the King had sealed with
his right hand against the evil ones, the children of Babel and the rebellious
demons of Sarbug. It rose up in the form of an eagle, the king of all winged
fowl, and flew until it alighted beside me and became wholly speech.
At its voice and sound I awoke and arose from my sleep, took it
up, kissed it, broke its seal, and read. Just as was written on my heart
were the words of my letter to read. I remembered that I was a son of kings,
and that my freeborn soul desired its own kind.
I remembered the Pearl for which I had been sent down into Egypt,
and I began to enchant the terrible and snorting serpent. I charmed it
to sleep by naming over it my Father's name, the name of our next in rank,and
that of my mother, the queen of the East. I seized the Pearl, and turned
to repair home to my Father. Their filthy and impure garment I put off,
and left it behind in their land, and directed my way that I might come
to the light of our homeland, the East.
My letter which had awakened me I found before me on my way; and
as it had awakened me with its voice, so it guided me with its light that
shone before me; with its voice it encouraged my fear, and with its love
it drew me on.
I went forth ....[the stages of the return correspond to those
of the descent]. My robe of glory which I had put off and my mantle which
went over it, my parents....sent to meet me by their treasurers who were
entrusted therewith. Its splendour I had forgotten, having left it as a
child in my Father's house.
As I now beheld the robe, it seemed to me suddenly to become a
mirror image of myself: myself entire I saw in it, and it entire I saw
in myself, that we were two in separateness, and yet again one in the sameness
of our forms [we pass over an extensive description of the robe]. And the
image of the King of kings was depicted all over it ....
I saw also quiver all over it the movements of the gnosis. I saw
that it was about to speak, and perceived the sound of its songs which
it murmured on its way down:
"I am that acted in the acts of him for whom I was brought up
in my Father's house," and I perceived in myself how my stature grew in
accordance with his labours.
And with its regal movements it pours itself wholly out to me,
and from the hands of its bringers hastens that I may take it; and me too
my love urged on to run towards it and to receive it. And I stretched towards
it and took it and decked myself with the beauty of its colors.
And I cast the royal mantle about my entire self. Clothed therein,
I ascended to the gate of salutation and adoration. I bowed my head and
adored the splendour of my Father who had sent it to me, whose commands
I had fulfilled as he too had done what he promised.... He received me
joyfully, and I was with him in his kingdom, and all his servants praised
him with organ voice, that he had promised that I should journey to the
court of the King of kings and having brought my Pearl should appear together
with him.

Next, let us recount the story of the prodigal son as it is recorded in Luke.45 We might take note of the differences and similarities with the story of the pearl while reading it. We may suspect rather quickly that both stories have a common source. In fact, they do.

And he said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them
said to his father, "Father give me the portion of goods that falleth to
me."
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the
younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country,
and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that
land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen
of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he
would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat:
and no man gave unto him.
And when he came to himself, he said, "How many hired servants
of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
I will arise and go to my father, and I will say unto him, Father, I have
sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called
thy son: make me as one of they hired servants."
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great
way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran and fell on his
neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, "Father, I have sinned
against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy
son."
But the father said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and
put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring
hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat and be merry. For this
my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And they
began to be merry.
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh
to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants,and
asked what these things meant.
And he said unto him, "Thy brother is come; and thy father hath
killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound."
And he was angry and would not go in: therefore came his father
out, and entreated him. And he, answering, said to his father, "Lo, these
many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment:
and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.
"But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy
living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."
And he said unto him, "Son thou art ever with me, and all that
I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for
this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."

Four more very short parables complete the story of the prodigal son and also our brief survey.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field;
the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and
selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field."
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant, seeking
goodly pearls: who when he had found one pearl of great price, went and
sold all that he had, and bought it."46
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he lose one of them,
doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that
which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it
on his shoulders, rejoicing.
And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and
neighbours, saying unto them, "Rejoice with me; for I have found my
sheep which was lost>."47
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one
piece,doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently
until she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends
and her neighbours together, saying, "Rejoice with me; for I have found
the piece which I had lost."48

Before interpreting these two stories with the able assistance of Hans Jonas and John Sanford, we need first to examine the meanings of several symbols. These symbols appear in both the story of the pearl and of the prodigal son, along with its four companion parables. I shall define first the gnostic meanings of these various symbols as derived in very capable manner by Jonas.49

Then I shall describe their meanings and implications in terms of the more subtle metaphysic of ecstasy as best I am able to determine. John Sanford casts light on a very significant alternative interpretation of the symbol of the pearl.

The first symbol we must consider is that of the Father's house in the east. This was a quite common gnostic symbol for the spiritual realm. As I noted above, gnosticism in most of its various renditions was based upon an absolute dualism between a supposed invisible or spiritual world and the visible or material world.

Of course, the Gnostics considered the spiritual realm to be the true homeland of the soul. They naturally envisioned this realm suffused with light and incorruptible knowledge and bliss. Contrarily, they considered the material realm of the real world to be a temporary as well as wholly despicable abode into whose carnal clutches the soul had fallen.

In keeping with the gnostic notion that light and innocence characterise the spiritual realm, while ignorance and sensuality suffuse the material, they considered the soul symbolized aptly as a little child, the second symbol. Many took their lead from the words of Jesus (cf Mk 10, 14) as do many who call themselves Christian today. These latter undoubtedly would cringe at the knowledge that their childlike characterization stems from a purely gnostic interpretation of scriptures.

The next symbol to consider is that of the mysterious provisions for the journey. This is the dire journey into the material world, of course. The provisions for this journey into the terrible and dangerous realm of matter represent simply the gnosis. Since the soul had originated in the spiritual realm the recollection of divine truth remained hidden within the inner heart of man. For gnostics this inner knowledge was the precious truth that would set man free.

The next symbol is the burden the little child carries into the world of matter. This burden consists of five precious substances. These five symbolize the means or powers of the soul for conducting its soteriologic struggles on earth.

The beautiful robe of glory and its royal mantle symbolized for the gnostics man's transcendental self. This they envisioned as the spiritual and eternal aspect of the incarnating soul. It was preserved in the upper world of the spirit while the soul laboured in the material world below.

Egypt symbolizes the material and lower world, the kingdom of the dead. For the gnostics, the material world was the realm of the spiritually and morally dead. Here we find the desire to be free of incarnate existence.

The sea represents the many and generally turbulent waters of psychic life into which humanity has become submerged. From the depths of these waters man, in the gnostic view at least, cries out for deliverance. In the Apocalypse these "many waters" also make an appearance.

The serpent is the "dragon of desire" for sentient life. To the gnostics,as well as to Buddhists to this day, the dragon of desire is the supreme obstacle to liberation from carnal existence.

The inn, a place of impermanent lodging, represents the physical body specifically and the material world in general. Although less harsh a symbol than others, the inn suggests the longing for home of the weary traveller. The fellow dwellers of the inn are the other creatures of this world.

The next symbol we may examine, the impure garment of the Egyptians, represents again the physical body. This the soul must put on in order to be in the world and to carry out its eschatological mission.

Having a physical body, in turn, brings about the deep slumber. This symbolizes the soul's ignorance of its true nature and homeland in the spiritual realm. It also alludes to its involuntary involvement in the sentient illusions of the world.

The letter represents the divine call to the physically entrapped soul to arise from the slumber of its own ignorance. The letter rekindles the knowledge of the gnosis within the soul.

Upon receipt of the divine call, the sleeping soul awakens, charms the dragon and snatches up the pearl. In essence the awakened soul permits the dragon to devour it in order then to vanquish the dragon from within. For it is within the dragon itself that the pearl lies hidden.

Being a child of the divine light, the devoured soul is poisonous to the dragon of darkness. The dragon thus poisoned immediately vomits up the soul in its death throws. Whereupon the soul's mission is accomplished.

Upon conquering the dragon and capturing the pearl, the soul regains its robe and mantle. These now become the image of itself. The incarnating soul recognizes itself in the aspect of its transcendental form. And vice versa. The final recognition and reunion of the terrestrial man and his spiritual self represent the ultimate gnostic encounter. This is a kind of dualistic self realization.

This brings us finally to the last question and ultimate meaning of the gnostic story. What does the pearl itself symbolize?

According to Hans Jonas "in the glossary of gnostic symbolism, pearl is one of the standing metaphors for the soul in the supernatural sense. It could therefore have been listed simply with the equivalent terms dealt with in the preceding survey."

Yet the pearl "is more of a secret name than the more direct terms" of the foregoing enumeration. Those terms are all relatively simple and straight forward symbols whose meanings are fairly unambiguous. The symbol of the pearl, on the other hand, "stands in a category by itself by singling out one particular aspect, or metaphysical condition, of that transcendent principle [meaning the human soul]. Whereas almost all the other expressions can apply equally to divinity unimpaired and to its sunken [i.e., incarnated] part, the pearl denotes specifically the latter in the fate that has overtaken it. The pearl is essentially the 'lost pearl,'50 and has to be retrieved. The fact of the pearl's being enclosed in an animal shell and hidden in the deep may have been among the associations that originally suggested the image. The Naassenes, interpreting in their own way Matt. 7:6, called 'understandings and intelligences and men' (i.e., the 'living' elements in the physical cosmos) 'the pearls of that Formless One cast into formation' (i.e., the body).(Hippol. Refut. V.8.32)"

Its condition of loss, for which we may understand its state of physical incarnation, is precisely what distinguishes the pearl from the other symbols discussed. Thus, the pearl is more than a symbol. It connotes a metaphysical and psychological experience.

"When the soul is addressed as pearl (as happens in a Turfan text), it is to remind it of its origin, but also to emphasize its preciousness to the celestial ones who seek for it."

Addressing the incarnating soul as pearl serves "also to contrast its worth to the worthlessness of its present surroundings, its lustre to the darkness in which it is immersed. [In the Turfan text] the address is used by the 'Spirit' as the opening of his message of salvation. In the text referred to he goes on to call the soul a 'king' for whose sake war was waged in heaven and earth and the envoys were sent.

"'And for thy sake the gods went forth and appeared and destroyed Death and killed Darkness...And I have come, who shall deliver from evil...And I shall open before thee the gate in every heaven...and show thee the Father, the King for ever; and lead thee before him in a pure garment'.

"... this is the message addressed to the Pearl, the reader, who remembers the story from the ACTS OF THOMAS, must be struck by the fact that this is also the message addressed to him who went forth to recover the Pearl." Recall that this is the child prince whose task is to retrieve the pearl from the dragon of darkness.

The child prince "too is assured that the gods, the great ones in his Father's kingdom, care about his deliverance, he too is reminded of his kingly origin, and he too is guided upward by the letter, that is, the Spirit or the Truth; finally he too is led before the Father in pure garments. In other words, the fate of the messenger has drawn to itself all the characteristics which would aptly describe the fate of the Pearl." Meanwhile in the Hymn, the Pearl itself, which you will recall is the object of the tale, remains a mere object. The pearl is not even described.

In the Hymn, so much is the pearl "here merely the symbol for a task on whose execution the messenger's own destiny depends that it is all but forgotten in the story of his return, and its handing over to the King is barely mentioned. Thus, if our poem is sometimes called 'The Hymn of the Soul,' its content seems to justify this designation in the figure of the Prince alone: whatever it has to tell about the soul's condition and destiny, it tells through his experiences."

Consequently, some interpreters express the opinion that "the Pearl stands here simply for the self or the good life of the envoy which he has to find on his terrestrial journey." The terrestrial journey becomes a trial to which the envoy is subjected in order to prove himself. This "means that he himself, and not the Pearl, represents the soul in general, and that the journey was really undertaken not for the Pearl's sake, but for his own. In this case the Pearl, the object of the quest, would have no independent status apart form the quest: it would be rather an expression for the latter, which may then be designated as self integration.

"Such an interpretation seems to be supported by the symbolism of the heavenly garment, which grows with the traveller's deeds etc. [But] the allegorical meaning of the Pearl itself is too firmly established in gnostic myth to allow of its being dissolved into a mere moral function. [And] as undoubtedly as the envoy's experiences can be substituted for those of the Pearl, if [the pearl] is to represent the soul, just as undoubtedly is the recovery of the Pearl itself the primary concern of the Celestials which prompts the mission of the Son with its otherwise unnecessary dangers to himself."

Clearly, "the Pearl is an entity in its own right; it fell into the power of Darkness prior to the sending out of the Prince, and for its sake he is ready to assume the burden of descent and exile, thereby inevitably reproducing some of the features of the pearl's own fate." Yet it remains elusive because of the doubtful relationship of the Prince and the pearl.

The interpreter's puzzle, the very interchangeability of the Prince and the pearl, turns out to be, in fact, the key to interpreting the true meaning of the poem. It is, as well, the key to understanding gnostic eschatology in general.

We can confidently take the King's Son to be the Saviour, a definite divine figure [i.e., the historical Jesus], and not just the personification of the human soul in general. Yet this unique position does not prevent him from undergoing in his own person the full force of human destiny, even to the extent that he the saviour himself has to be saved."

This unexpected situation "is an irremissible condition of his saving function. For the parts of divinity lost to the darkness can be reached only down there in the depth in which they are swallowed up; and the power which holds them, that of the world, can be overcome only from within."

Consequently, "this means that the saviour god must assimilate himself to the forms of cosmic existence and thereby subject himself to its conditions. The Christian reader must not confuse this necessity with the orthodox interpretation of Christ's passion.

"Since the gnostic concept of salvation has nothing to do with the remission of sin ('sin' itself having no place in gnostic doctrine, which puts 'ignorance' in its place), there is in the saviour's descent nothing of vicarious suffering, of atonement as a condition for divine forgiveness and, with one exception of Marcion, nothing even of a ransom by which the captive souls have to be bought back."

Instead, "the idea is either that of a technical necessity imposed by the conditions of the mission [to retrieve the pearl], namely, the nature of the [physical earthly] system, far from the divine realm, into which the messenger has to penetrate and whose laws he cannot cancel for himself, or that of a ruse by which the Archons are to be deceived. In the latter version the suffering or temporary succumbing of the saviour may not be real at all but merely apparent and part of the deception."

A ruse is certainly "not the case in our poem, where the stranger's predicament is quite real; yet even here his trials are an outcome of the inevitable dangers of his mission and not part of its very meaning. To put it differently, they imperil the success of his mission and are triumphantly overcome." Note that in Christian eschatology the many trials of the saviour are themselves the very means and manner by which success of the saviour's mission is assured. His suffering and death are absolutely required for the process of redemption to occur.

"With this cardinal difference in mind, we may still say that there is a [real] sacrificial element in the saviour's descent according to [the gnostic] poem, in that he was willing for the Pearl's sake to take upon himself an exile's fate and to duplicate in his person the history of that which he came to redeem: the Soul.

"If in addition we are right in discerning in the King's Son certain features of the Primal Man [common in] Manichaean doctrine, he also duplicates the fate of that [ancient] precosmic divinity in which the present condition of the Soul, i.e., the Pearl, originated."

All "the successive and mutually analogous phases of the world drama [of the Primal Man], notwithstanding their cosmic significance, symbolize also the tribulations and triumphs of the human soul. The reference to the Primal Man in particular supplies a final link in the solution of our riddle.

"It is not for nothing that a precosmic (and mediately cosmogonic) eternal divinity bears the name Man. The souls dispersed in the world are his 'Light Armour,' part of his original substance, which he lost to the Darkness in the primordial fight." Now this Man "is actually present in every human soul, exiled, captive, stunned; and if the Prince as his later representation comes to recover these lost elements, he in a sense really seeks his own. His work is one of reintegration of the divine self, even of his own self, only not in the sense pertaining to an individual person."

Further, "if, then, there is this metaphysical, though not numerical, identity between the messenger and the Pearl, every hearer of the tale can legitimately, without confounding personal identities, recognize in the adventures of the messenger the story of his own earthbound soul. [He can] see his own fate as part and analogue of the deity's, yet at the same time also as the latter's object.

"Thus in the proper perspective the competing interpretations resolve themselves as not really alternative but complementary."51

So the pearl is identified as the divine spark of life within human beings, the Primal Man captivated by the material world. Prompted by its very uneasiness in its present condition it strives towards liberation and reunification in the spiritual realm. And with this inner uneasiness and feeling of conflicting forces every human being can readily identify.

In the Christian story of the prodigal son, the gnostic prince has been transformed into the wastrel son. The mission of recovering the pearl has dropped out altogether, as has all mention of the pearl itself. Obviously, in the Christian story the metaphysical implications of the myth of the pearl have decayed into mere moral precepts. The pearl, however, appears in the other parable fragments. It is also transformed into the lost sheep, coin and treasure.

Despite the overall corruption of the story in its Christian version, a significant development occurs. Among its various new guises, the pearl has gained the appellation of the "kingdom" and with additional meaning. The term puns the anticipated messianic kingdom of the Essenian Jews. The significance of this term we must now examine thoroughly with the help of John Sanford.

The Gospel of Matthew mentions the "kingdom" fifty-two times. That of Mark mentions it fifteen times, and Luke thirty-nine times. The Gospel of John mentions it five times and uses the expression 'eternal life' as a substitute nine times more.

"The Acts and the Epistles mention the kingdom or its equivalent term, eternal life, forty-three times. In addition, fifteen of the parables speak directly of the kingdom."

If we know what is meant by the kingdom, certainly, we shall have discovered the core of the Christian teaching. For everything attributed to the teachings of Jesus relates directly or indirectly to this very important new term "kingdom."

Further, by means of getting at a better understanding of the word kingdom, we may discover a significant corruption of the older metaphysic of ecstasy. This serious corruption is expressed in the gnostic myth of the pearl, and also in the intermediate level of the Apocalypse. For at the esoteric and intermediate level of understanding described by Pryse, the Apocalypse rests very solidly upon gnostic foundations.

John Sanford explains, "In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew's gospel we find two brief parables which point to the paradoxical heart of the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. A look at their inner meaning will open the door to this mysterious reality which was so central to Jesus' teaching.

"'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone has found; he hides it again, goes off happy, sells everything he owns and buys the field' (Matthew 13:44)."52

For reasons which Sanford goes into at some length but which do not concern us here, Jesus always talks about this mysterious kingdom of his in figures and images. This is one very striking feature of his teaching of the kingdom. He never talks about it directly.

Thus, Jesus never speaks of the kingdom as being 'such and such,' but he describes it always 'like' or 'as' such and such. The significance of this manner of speaking about the kingdom will become clear in short order. Not the least of its significance, it forever buries the simple notion of the orthodox heaven as a place of eternal reward for the righteous.

"Here the figure is that of a treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom is, therefore, something of great value, which, in this parable, the individual may discover. Once someone has found this treasure, he recognizes it to be so valuable that he gives up everything else he has in order to acquire it.

"There is an inner reality within each of us which is like a great treasure lying hidden in the field of our soul waiting to be discovered. When someone finds this inner treasure, and recognizes its value, he happily gives up all other goals and ambitions in order to make it real in his life.

"Now let us compare this with the second parable.

"'Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls; when he finds one of great value he goes and sells everything he owns and buys it' (Matthew 13: 44-45).

"At first glance it looks as if this parable duplicates the parable of the treasure. But, as Fritz Kunkel has pointed out (Creation Continues, p. 193),in the first parable the kingdom is a treasure which we search for and find; in the second parable the kingdom is likened to a merchant who is searching for things of value. In this case we are the pearls, found by the kingdom of God.

"So the paradox is that the kingdom is both that which we find within ourselves as an inner treasure and also that which is searching to find us, who when found become something of supreme value in the eyes of God. We are the fine pearls if the kingdom can take root within us, and to such a person God gives a place of supreme value in His creation.

"Very often in the history of Christianity theologians and teachers have dwelt upon the unworthiness of man, his proneness to sin, his worthlessness in contrast to God's supreme goodness; they have even laid the responsibility for evil at man's doorstep. There is none of this in the teachings of Jesus. Jesus is often disappointed in men, of course, but only because man is potentially of the highest value, the inheritor of God's very own kingdom. He harbours the kingdom within his own soul. God searches for the man who will recognize the kingdom within him, and He ascribes to such a man supreme value."53

John Sanford notes further that everything taught by Jesus related either directly or indirectly to the kingdom. Its vital importance becomes apparent from even a cursory reading of the Gospels. It forms the keystone of the teachings of Jesus.

"This importance of the kingdom of God has not gone unnoticed by scholars and theologians, and volumes have been written on the subject. Almost all these efforts suffer from two great drawbacks: the determined effort made to relate Jesus' ideas of the kingdom of God to prevailing ideas already in existence before his time; and the materialistic point of view of the various scholars, which has blinded them to the kingdom as an inner, spiritual reality. It is only when we have recognized the uniqueness of Jesus' consciousness and the importance and reality of man's inner world that we can properly appreciate the significance of the kingdom of God in Jesus' teachings and in our lives.

"We do not find these limitations, however, in the early Church. The early Fathers of the Church knew that man experienced both outer physical reality, of which he became aware through the senses, and inner, spiritual reality, known to him directly, intuitively, through the soul and in personal experiences such as dreams and visions. The kingdom was not something coming upon man from outside of himself, but was a reality within himself, the very foundation of his personal existence, and something which could be experienced by the individual.

"The kingdom of God as a spiritual reality within men must be described as a psychological reality insofar as it is experienceable by the individual in the development and unfolding of his personality. When we find and realize the kingdom in ourselves, we experience a growing wholeness, an increasing sense of the meaning of our individual personality, a realization of new and creative energies, and an expanding consciousness. This leads us beyond our individual ego existence to an experience with a transcendant source of life,and to a creative life in the social sphere. The kingdom involves the realization of our personalities according to the inner plan established within us by God; hence, the unfolding Self which predates and transcends the ego."54

"One of the most important images Jesus used to describe the kingdom is the image of growth. While this image occurs many times (cf. Mt 13:4-9, 24-30; 7:15-20), the best-known examples are in the two following parables:

"'The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches' (Mt 13:31-32 / Mk4:30-32 / Lk 13:18-19).

"'The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through' (Matthew 13:33/ Luke 13:20-21).

"In the case of the Parable of the Mustard Seed the image is of something which begins as a small, seemingly insignificant thing, but which, through a process of growth, achieves great strength and stature. (In the Orient the'mustard tree' is quite a large tree.) So the kingdom of heaven begins in a man's life as something seemingly small and insignificant, but through a process of growth becomes a mighty power. The image of the tree is appropriate, for just as a tree is rooted in the earth but reaches up to heaven, so the unfolding of the personality includes both our earthly and spiritual natures.

"In the case of the Parable of the Yeast, yeast is what causes a loaf of bread to rise. It is seemingly insignificant in itself, yet without yeast the bread remains flat and unfinished. So the kingdom of heaven is the reality in a man's life which causes his whole personality, and the outer fabric of his life as well, to achieve completeness.

"Those familiar with the workings of the unconscious recognize a process at work within the individual constantly seeking to bring about that person's wholeness and fulfilment. This inner growth potential is regarded by most people as small, insignificant, and valueless, while the important things are said to be outside of ourselves. Yet it is through the acceptance of the inner power for growth that our lives rise and become fulfilled. It is not surprising in view of this to find that our dreams often reflect this inner growth under the image of a great tree, or stress the importance of a child, who also frequently represents our growth potential. A conventional, narrowly scientific attitude toward man cannot take into account man's potential for growth, for it sees only man's outward behaviour and is blind to his potential selfhood.55

"Because the kingdom is associated with the inner growth of the individual, it is very much a here-and-now experience. While Jewish apocalyptists before him projected the kingdom of heaven into the future and saw it as a great event coming upon man from outside, Jesus saw that the kingdom of heaven begins within a man, and is initiated in this present time. It is also in the future because, although it is here now as a potentiality influencing life, its realization is not complete. So Jesus can say,

"'the kingdom of heaven is close at hand' (Mt 4:17, 10:7, and many parallels).

"And in John's Gospel Jesus says to Nicodemus,

"'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God' (John 3:3KJV).

"This certainly implies that the kingdom is a present reality to be entered into by the individual when he achieves such a radical transformation of his character that it is represented under the image of rebirth."

"Jesus was able to preach the imminent presence of the kingdom because man's spiritual and psychological development was now such that he could arrive at a new stage of his potentiality. For the first time the individual man could achieve an inward relatedness to God. While the religion of the priests and prophets before him had been largely a matter of relationship of God to his people, the new expression of this faith which Jesus gives us is that each individual is to achieve his own relatedness to God. In this way the individual participates personally in the kingdom, which he is now ready to receive. For the individual today the kingdom is achieved through the process of inner growth into his own wholeness and creativity."56

Click here to continue
Click here to return to beginning of this chapter
Click here to go back to previous chapter
Click here to return to table of contents