In today’s Gospel Story (Matthew 13:44-52) Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven. He never tells us what the kingdom is, but gives examples of what the kingdom is like, leaving it to us to form our own vision of the kingdom, since each of us is unique and on our own journey. Because the Kingdom of God is beyond anything we can grasp, Jesus offers us these parables as ideas to ponder. From time to time our understanding of these parables may change as we change and, perhaps, grow.
For many the kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God, is for after we die, a transactional matter. If we have lived a good life, heaven is where we go. If we have not lived a good life, we go to the other place, whatever that may be. From this perspective the role of religion and church is to get us to earn enough points that when we die God “has” to take us to heaven, wherever and whatever that is. Jesus has a different view: the kingdom of God is here and now. He is less concerned with getting us to heaven than with showing us how to live as we are created to be in our here and now. Religion is one way of helping us to do this. What exactly is the way differs among religious traditions, even among subsets of a tradition, such as the various interpretations of christianity, each of which often claims it is the only true way. Religion is not about pleasing God for later, but about living as we are created to be here and now, and supporting each other as we do so.
Living with the others in our life is always a challenge. As Jesus tells says when he likens the kingdom to a large fishing net that collects fish of every kind, the kingdom of God includes everybody, and it’s not up to us to decide who are the bad fish. No matter what we think we know, we can’t exclude anybody because they offend our version of God. It’s easier to please a God we see as remote and far away than to live with folks we see every day. We might find ourselves letting go of our need to judge others and simply move towards accepting folks as they are, which does not mean always agreeing with them. It just means doing our best to be open to the Spirit without laying down any conditions. The Spirit leads us to sense we don’t really know other people, their story, or their journey, their crosses or burdens, or their inner demons. Each of us hides things about ourselves. All we know is they/we are each unique images of God who loves them/us as they/we are. We are much more alike than we are different, although our differences are important.
As we see from what we know about how Jesus lived, the Spirit might move us to sense there is something we have to do to help others. All around us, locally and far away, people are hurting. Often this is caused by systems and institutions, both civil and religious — immigration, trafficking, violence, discrimination, abuse, etc. People who do or say things these systems and institutions don’t like or perceive to be threatening are very badly treated, often allegedly in the name of God, as was Jesus.
Each of us has our own version of God. It is not God, and it tells us more about ourselves than about God. This isn’t good or bad, it just is. None of us can fully grasp God. Our image of God, which we might let go of from time to time as we grow, is the only place we can be for the next step on our journey of being open to the Spirit.
Jesus talks about the kingdom as a pearl of great price and as a treasure buried in a field. In each parable someone found something very important and valuable to them, and wanted it so much that they rearranged their life so they could get it. For us it might happen from time to time that we have some experience that impacts us so much that we are willing to rearrange our life to have more of it. It could be our first love, a relationship, something not so nice, but it moves us to make some real changes in our priorities and how we live. These two parables might offer us insight as to where we are on our journey, and where we might be headed for our next step, and the power we have with our choices.
Jesus promised to send the spirit who reminds us of what he taught us, in other words helps us know what it means for us in our particular circumstances to live as a disciple of Jesus no matter where we are or what is going on in our life. For Jesus, God is in no way remote or uninvolved. For him, we are always in God, and God is always in us. God can be for us a matter of lived experience. In a sense, no matter what is going on in our life it’s like God is saying to us, “we got this”. As we begin to realize this, it could be our pearl of great price or our buried treasure, when we are open to it.
Every moment of every day offers us the opportunity to be open to the Spirit, to be kind, caring, present. Often this is no easy thing, but the more we try, the more surprised we are. Gradually this may become for us a habit, but we have to want it, to get our pearl of great price and our treasure, willing to choose, maybe to change. We might find ourselves letting go of our desire to feel in control, and simply go where it takes us. Just sayin . . .