The kingdom of God is described metaphorically, say the council bishops. Let me suggest that the various metaphors are not intended to be used to defeat arguments for women’s ordination, for democratic philosophies within religious orders or parishes, or even the pet conservative issue we love to hate.
These metaphors give us a glimpse into the reality of God’s intent for human fulfillment through Christ at the end of time.
Enough yapping; let’s read:
In the old Testament the revelation of the Kingdom is often conveyed by means of metaphors. In the same way the inner nature of the Church is now made known to us in different images taken either from tending sheep or cultivating the land, from building or even from family life and betrothals, the images receive preparatory shaping in the books of the Prophets.
The Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ.(Jn. 10, 1-10) It is a flock of which God Himself foretold He would be the shepherd,(cf. Is. 40, 11; Ex. 34, llf) and whose sheep, although ruled by human shepherds; are nevertheless continuously led and nourished by Christ Himself, the Good Shepherd and the Prince of the shepherds,(cf Jn. 10, 11; 1 Pet. 5, 4) who gave His life for the sheep.(cf. Jn. 10, 11-15)
The Church is a piece of land to be cultivated, the village of God.(l Cor. 3, 9) On that land the ancient olive tree grows whose holy roots were the Prophets and in which the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles has been brought about and will be brought about.(Rom. 11, 13-26) That land, like a choice vineyard, has been planted by the heavenly Husbandman.(Mt. 21, 33-43; cf.15, 5, 1f) The true vine is Christ who gives life and the power to bear abundant fruit to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing.(Jn. 15, 1-5)
Often the Church has also been called the building of God.(1 Cor. 3, 9) The Lord Himself compared Himself to the stone which the builders rejected, but which was made into the cornerstone.(Mt 21, 42; cf. Act. 4, 11; 1 F 2, 7; Ps. 117, 22) On this foundation the Church is built by the apostles,(cf. 1 Cor. 3, 11) and from it the Church receives durability and consolidation. This edifice has many names to describe it: the house of God (1 Tim. 3, 15) in which dwells His family; the household of God in the Spirit;(Eph. 2, 19-22) the dwelling place of God among (people);(Apoc. 21, 3) and, especially, the holy temple. This Temple, symbolized in places of worship built out of stone, is praised by the Holy Fathers and, not without reason, is compared in the liturgy to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem (Cfr. Origenes, In Matth. 16, 21: PG 13, 1443 C, Tertullianus Adv. Marc. 3, 7: PL 2, 357 C, CSEL 47, 3 p. 386. Pro documentis liturgicis, cfr. Sacramentarium Gregorianum: PL 78, 160 B.Vel C. Mohlberg, Liber Sactamentorum romanae ecclesiae, Romao 195O, p. 111, XC:.Deus, qui ex omni coaptacione sanctorum aeternum tibi condis habitaculum….. Hymnus Urbs Ierusalem beata in Breviario monastico, et Coclest urbs Ierusalem in Breviario Romano.). As living stones we here on earth are built into it.(1 Pet. 2, 5) John contemplates this holy city coming down from heaven at the renewal of the world as a bride made ready and adorned for her husband.(Apoc. 21, 16)
The Church, further, “that Jerusalem which is above” is also called “our mother”.(Gal. 4, 26; cf. Apoc. 12, 17) It is described as the spotless spouse of the spotless Lamb,(Apoc. 19, 7; 21, 2 and 9; 22, 17) whom Christ “loved and for whom He delivered Himself up that He might sanctify her”,(Eph. 5, 26) whom He unites to Himself by an unbreakable covenant, and whom He unceasingly “nourishes and cherishes”,(Eph. 5, 29) and whom, once purified, He willed to be cleansed and joined to Himself, subject to Him in love and fidelity,(Cf. Eph. 5, 24) and whom, finally, He filled with heavenly gifts for all eternity, in order that we may know the love of God and of Christ for us, a love which surpasses all knowledge.(Cf. Eph. 3, 19) The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord,(Cf. 2 Cor. 5, 6) is life an exile. It seeks and experiences those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until it appears in glory with its Spouse.(Cf. Col. 3, 1-4)
The realm of metaphor is best explored in the arts, not in didactic teaching. It is one thing to have these metaphors listed and even theologically explained. But for them to have their whole benefit, we must sing them, contemplate them in visual art, and be inspired by them. We are not literally sheep, women awaiting a husband, or a building. But the reality is that these images bring us closer to an understanding of our relationship with God that textbooks alone will accomplish.