The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it 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.” Matthew 13:31-32
Jesus’ initial instruction to us is to repent, or to change the direction of our life. The purpose of repentance is to enter the kingdom of heaven. The next logical question is, “What is the kingdom of heaven like?” The image I received from my childhood was that heaven was somewhere up in the sky where there were many long-dead relatives, along with angels playing harps while floating on clouds. It made me think of family reunions as a child, minus the angels, and it was hardly a compelling image for me at the time. The thought of spending an eternity there made me wonder about my other options.
Jesus paints a completely different picture of heaven, however. In Matthew 13, he tells a number of parables about the kingdom. In 13:18-23 he compares a planter sowing seeds in different types of soil to different people hearing the word of the kingdom. Some will receive the message as a seed sown in fertile soil and enter the kingdom. In the parable quoted above, Jesus compares the kingdom to a tiny mustard seed that grows into a tree. In 13:33, he compares the kingdom to yeast added to flour. In 13:44, he compares heaven to “treasure hidden in a field”; in 13:45, the kingdom is like a “pearl of great value.” In 13:47, he compares it to a “net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” An obvious question is this: “What do these analogies tell us about the kingdom of God?”
My first observation is that the kingdom of God is not a static point or place in time. In the parables of the sower, the mustard seed, and the leaven, the example used is something that is grown into over time. Like a plant growing to maturity, the kingdom dweller is dynamic, forever changing, and evolving into new versions of itself. Patience is necessary.
A second observation is that the kingdom is a life-multiplier. Particularly in the yeast parable, but also in the seed parables, the analogy indicates that accessing the kingdom enhances whatever is happening in life in positive ways. Without yeast, bread may still be bread, but it will not rise or be nearly as tasty as it would otherwise be. Without yeast, bread is also left sterile, meaning it cannot generate additional loaves of bread from itself. This is further illustrated in the parable of the sower when the seed is sown on fertile soil and the seed multiplies. Likewise, in the story of the net, this kingdom net catches many fish of every kind and size. The kingdom of heaven, like yeast, soil, and a good fishing net, improves the state of, bounty from, and diversity in our lives.
A third observation is that the kingdom, once experienced, becomes the most valuable part of our lives. In the parables of the pearl of great value and the hidden treasure, the possessors of the pearl and treasure give up everything else in order to attain this one treasure. Their sole focus becomes the kingdom.
Finally, the kingdom of God is about the here and now. It is not some faraway place up in the clouds. Jesus uses everyday examples and explains the impact of the kingdom on regular, daily activities. It under girds and supports our lives, just as the mustard seed transforms into a tree and provides shelter for birds.
Entering the kingdom means experiencing our world in a new way. It does not necessarily change our profession, our health, our finances, or any of the material particulars of our lives. What it changes is our perspective, assuring us of a larger, beneficent life surrounding us, and that can lead to astronomical changes in the life we experience going forward. Far from being a family-reunion-in-the-sky, the kingdom is about our lives today! It takes the life we have and makes it joyful, richer, more productive, more loving, and more fulfilling. The kingdom of God is not a place we go, but a unity we become as we learn to see others through and to be seen by the unfathomably loving gaze of God.
This is the 4th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”