If we think of God as the goodness which we begin to know in our parents’ love, then loving God means loving goodness.
1. If we love goodness we become skilled at recognising that loved one in any situation and in any disguise. Jesus could see the goodness in rain and sunshine, in the wild flowers and the common birds; in local fishermen, foreign centurions, Jewish collaborators, prostitutes, sinners and rich young men; in sick bodies and twisted minds; even in his own death on an execution stake. He was not born with this ability but developed it in response to the goodness he experienced from others and from the world. Love of goodness is responsive love.
2. To love goodness is to desire it for oneself and others. We know that Jesus eagerly seized the goodness he found in his own faith tradition, and became so familiar with it that he understood it in new ways. We know he used the custom of solitary prayer to express himself to God and to open himself to God’s goodness. He did not think of himself as doing good deeds, but as desiring the divine goodness he sensed lurking in every person and situation and being ready to reach out to grasp it.
3. To love goodness is to know its persuasive power; to trust that as people become aware of it, they will be charmed and persuaded by it, as long as they are not in league with evil. The lovers of good are not at all naive and they know the terrible power of evil, but are not cowed by it. Jesus knew that his job was to open people’s eyes to goodness in themselves, in others and in the creation, because goodness is the persuasive antidote to evil. Sure, there may always be those who are unpersuaded, but he didn’t think it was his job to worry about them. Goodness could be seen and done now, that was all that mattered. He spent no time going on about people’s sins. That was the old person; the new person was forgiven for past sins, and Jesus never made a meal of God’s forgiveness; it was announced, and behold, new life could begin.
4. To love goodness is to know it should never be postponed; it can be got and given now: your own sinfulness is no excuse, you can have it and show it now; the bad state of society or humanity is no excuse, all the more reason to act now; the opposition of powerful people is no excuse, goodness is your weapon now; your family responsibilities are no excuse, a greater family needs your goodness; your fear and weakness are no excuse, goodness will give you strength.
5. But love of goodness does not make you a moral fanatic, always driven and unable to enjoy life. Jesus knew that goodness was present, perhaps above all, in the shared pleasure of ordinary things like eating, drinking and conversation. He was scandalously appreciative of the company at table of men and women regarded by religious fanatics as beyond the pale. He knew that he and others could be nourished just as much by eating together as by religious ritual. Perhaps no other founder of faith has so appreciated the street and the market place as Jesus.
6. All this is to say that we can interpret Jesus’ language about God’s kingdom as referring to the available goodness that he received and gave.