Matthew 13 is all about the parable: the story to tell the story. Matthew has Jesus going through a series of parables about responses to faith and how faith can so easily wilt. He mentions the presence of evil and how difficult it is to sometimes differentiate from truth. Then at verses 31-33 and 44-52 Jesus goes into a number of images as he tries to help his disciples understand the meaning of the “kingdom of heaven”: mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearls, and a fishing net.
Some of these images are familiar and comforting. The mustard is small, but that’s all it takes to become fruitful. The yeast helps the bread to grow and become light and tasty—there’s nothing more yummy and comforting than fresh baked bread still warm from the oven. While I’m not into pearls, per se, I can see how Jesus might want his disciples to view the kingdom of heaven as the most important thing in their lives, worth more than all they possess. But I’m a little fuzzy on the hidden treasure (v. 44) and the fishing net (vv. 47-50), especially the dividing of the fish (similar to the parable of the wheat and weeds in vv. 24-30. So, for now, I’m going to leave those alone.
When I was younger I imagined the kingdom of heaven or the kingdom of God as this far away magical place that probably looked something like Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland—bright, even at night, and filled with wonder and beauty, especially when the fireworks are shot over and behind it. I imagined this castle surrounded by beautifully manicured grass that just naturally grew that way, for no one would have to work in heaven. I imagined beds of beautiful and fragrant flowers, and a sky that is always blue with the whitest and puffiest clouds anyone could imagine. And everyone is smiling and playing and enjoying living in the presence of God.
As I grew older my image of the kingdom of heaven began to shift. I began to view it less as a place than a state of existence—simply existing in the presence of God. But, I still hung on to the presence of God being in a certain place or a certain way. I have gradually shifted to seeing this kingdom as truly a state of existence wherein we acknowledge the presence of God and seek after it whenever and wherever we find ourselves. I have begun to wonder if the kingdom of God is not “far off” and after death, but here, now, on this earth, with these people.
The kingdom of God is much like yeast in my mind—a growing, organic element that works into and is a part of every part of our lives, but we can’t really see or differentiate from anything else. Just as the yeast makes the bread light and delightful, when I am more aware of God’s presence in my life and in the lives of others, I feel more at ease, even when the “stuff” starts to hit the fan all around me. When I am able to truly live in the kingdom—in the presence of God—I am more able to respond faithfully to crisis, from a position of trust rather than fear and insecurity.
The problem for me is that I don’t always feel like I’m there in God’s kingdom. Far too often I am caught up in the day-to-day stuff and can’t see beyond that stuff to see beauty that lays ahead, behind, and all around me. I get annoyed by something or someone. I get hurt by careless words or behavior toward me. I get angry. I get tired. But, when I am able to live more fully into God’s kingdom, I am not tired, and, therefore, less apt to be annoyed or sad or hurt, and thereby less apt to be unjustly angry. The problems of the world still bother me and I still feel an overwhelming need to respond to them faithfully, but I feel more able to do so.
My image of the kingdom has changed. My understanding of the kingdom has shifted. I do not know if I am closer or farther from the truth, but I do know that maybe I need to pay more attention to how I am responding to the world—God’s world. Maybe I need to pay more attention to how intentional I’m being in the world in order to grow more fully in the kingdom. Life isn’t always warm, fluffy bread. Sometimes, it’s [insert your least favorite food that is also, unfortunately, very nutritious]. It’s still good for me, and if I can get beyond my fickle taste buds, I just might get another glimpse into the beautiful wonder of the presence of the Holy One of all creation.
What is your image of the kingdom of heaven? Have you ever thought about it? Is it near or far away? Is there a passage of scripture that you seem attracted to that describes it for you? What does that say about your image of God? What hopes or dreams are held in that image?