From the days of John the Baptist until now,
the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence,
and the violent are taking it by force. – Matthew 11:12
What to make of today’s Scripture readings, especially the Gospel? Both the psalmist and the evangelist refer to the Kingdom of Heaven — and we know something about this Kingdom from the Parables of Jesus. By all accounts, it is a place of peace.
Why then would this Kingdom be taken by force and violence, as Jesus says here? It almost sounds as if the fallen angels are succeeding in regaining their places in Heaven.
St. Maximus understands this gospel as instruction for us, especially in these days of Advent, when we should be preparing for the coming of that Kingdom.
In a homily, “On the Preparation for the Lord’s Coming,” Maximus notes that some clothes can be cleaned with pure water, but certain stains require “the softening of oil and the acrimony of soap.” Similarly, while repentance is needed in response to sin, some sinfulness requires more: “the oil of almsgiving and the bitterness of fasting.”
God, he writes, is “compelled by our good works to bestow His mercy on us, as He has Himself declared in the Holy Gospel: From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away.
“We do violence, I say, against the Lord, not by compelling, but by weeping; not provoking Him by insults, but by pleading with tears of repentance; not by blaspheming in pride, but by grieving in humility.”
If this is what Jesus means by violence, Maximus concludes, “let us attack the Lord. … Let us take from him His kingdom, His treasures and His life. But He is so rich and so generous that He will not resist us, and when He has given us all that is His, He still possesses all things.”
Says the preacher: “Let us assault Him, I say, not with sword or staff, or stone, but with mildness, with good works, with chastity.”
Stir up our hearts, O Lord,
to make ready the paths
of your Only Begotten Son,
that through his coming,
we may be found worthy to serve you
with minds made pure.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.