The Amidah is the essential part of the morning, afternoon and evening weekday services in the synagogue. Every Jew is religiously obligated to pray the Eighteen Benedictions daily.
Over the past few years, I have reflected much on the phrases “to enter the Kingdom of Heaven” and “to inherit eternal life.” One important conclusion that I have reached from reading early rabbinic literature and Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that these are two independent concepts sharing a fuzzy area of overlap.
Listen to a sermon by David Pileggi delivered at the Narkis Street congregation in Jerusalem.
In a beautiful statement that probably referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, according to Luke, that “many prophets and kings” desired to see and hear what they (his disciples) are seeing and hearing. Matthew preserves the same saying, but in Matthew’s account the doublet is, “prophets and righteous persons.” The wording of Jesus’ saying in these two accounts is so similar that it appears likely that their slight differences reflect literary, or editorial, changes rather than different versions of the saying uttered by Jesus on different occasions. If so, which of these gospel accounts preserves the more original form of Jesus’ saying? Did Jesus say “prophets and kings” or “prophets and righteous persons”?
From the early centuries of the Christian era to our day, expositors of the Gospels have struggled with Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of Heaven, particularly with their temporal dimension. Will the Kingdom of Heaven appear one day in the future when the Son of Man suddenly comes? Or, has it been germinating like a seed with much potential for growth? Perhaps as C. H. Dodd suggested, it should be described as both realized and eschatological: germinal in reference to the past (and present), but explosive in regard to its coming manifestation.
As practitioners of Jesus’ teachings, our conduct certainly should be characterized by charity, but a helping hand with strings attached or expectations appended is not pleasant. This constitutes one of the mysterious aspects of the kingdom of heaven. It is The Transparent Agenda, a mandate to do good to all without prejudice and without expectations.
Jesus gave his disciple Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and promised that whatever Peter “bound” and “loosed” on earth would be “bound” and “loosed” in heaven. What scriptural allusions lurk beneath these expressions and what are their implications? How does the Jewish literary background of Matthew 16:19 help us better appreciate Jesus’ words?