This past Sunday’s Gospel had Jesus proclaiming what the kingdom of heaven is like five times. (Read Matthew 13:31–33, 44–52)
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
The Parable of the Yeast
33 He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Treasures New and Old
51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’
I was always amused by verse 51 where Jesus asks the disciples if they understood all of this and they answer “Yes.” Yeah right. I don’t know of a single person who understands all of this so very clearly. It’s not designed to be understood very clearly. That’s why these are parables.
So often we want to cut to the chase. We want Jesus to stop telling us what the kingdom of heaven is like, and just tell us what it is. If Jesus would just tell us exactly what it is, think of how much better it would be. He could lay out the boundaries. He could just list the names and groups that fall inside the boundaries and who falls outside. If Jesus would just cut to the chase, gosh, I’d be able to know for certain.
But here’s the thing, that desire to know for certain — it’s not always a good thing. Knowing what the boundaries are and who’s in and who’s out — that’s a dangerous thing. It’s divisive and creates walls of separation in God’s kingdom — walls that don’t exist in God’s kingdom.
In the kingdom of heaven there aren’t walls erected to keep people out. In the kingdom of heaven, fear is not proclaimed, but rather good news. In the kingdom of heaven Jesus comes into our lives, and takes over — much like a mustard seed that takes over a field like a ravaging weed. Jesus wants it all — our whole lives, not just sections here and there. We don’t get to say — “Well, Jesus, you can have my time on Sunday, but I need Wednesday — I’m pretty busy that day. And you can have my TV viewing, but don’t mess with my social media habits. I have fans and followers. You should be familiar with that Jesus. Oh, what’s that — you want my wallet and bank account!?! Are you crazy. No way Jesus. There are limits to this thing you know.”
Yeah, well, bad news there people — the kingdom of heaven is like a weed that just takes over everything.
But it’s actually good news. It’s good news for those on the outskirts and margins of society and its good news for those who benefit the most from culture and society. The old ways and divisions are put aside with the kingdom of heaven — not sometime in the far and distant future — but right now. Jesus says “The kingdom of heaven is like.” That means right now.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? I think that it partly depends on who is answering the question. What would the kingdom of heaven look like for an African-American in the US? What does the kingdom of heaven look like for someone who is LGBTQ+? What does the kingdom of heaven look like for a homeless veteran?
What does the kingdom of heaven look like for someone who has great wealth? What does the kingdom of heaven look like for someone with high education? What does the kingdom of heaven look like for someone with 2.3 children and 1.2 dogs and a picket fence?
The kingdom of heaven looks like the weed taking over the field and changing it. It looks like the divisions that our world spends a great deal to enforce are torn down. It looks like community — people walking together in common interest, caring that each other exist, tapping into each other’s value, and growing together.
Many days that I drive to the church, I stop at a particular corner in town. Other cars do too. There is a man who stands on the sidewalk, who clearly has some mental disabilities. Too often, all of the drivers, including myself, keep our eyes peeled on the light, waiting for it to change. But this past week, this man caught my attention and I made eye contact with him. He waved at me and smiled. I waved back and smiled at him. He gave me a thumbs up and I returned the favor.
What happened? The kingdom of heaven happened right there. Both of us had our humanity acknowledged. This was no longer just some guy on the street that I didn’t want to be bothered with. This was a man who touched my life and reminded me of my own humanity and I returned the favor.
What is the kingdom of heaven like? The kingdom of heaven is like making eye contact with a stranger at a stop light, acknowledging one another’s humanity, and beginning a journey that I have no idea where it goes. But I love the smile, the wave, and the thumbs up. The kingdom of heaven is like a smile, a wave, and thumbs up all in one experience.
How do you finish the statement — the kingdom of heaven is like…