(photo from Wikipedia)
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
I have heard it said that Heaven really must be a wonderful place, because no-one has yet come back to complain!
We hear a lot about heaven today. In the old testament today, Jacob dreams of Heaven, complete with a ladder and angels ascending and descending. Jacob is told his family will stretch across the generations, just as it was foretold to Abraham, his grandfather. For Jacob, this dream of multiplying his family is a cultural heaven, a promise fulfilled.
Paul, too, talks about Heaven and judgment, and is thankful for the Holy Spirit, who Intercedes for us and calls on our behalf, giving us the ability to pray and to audaciously call God our Father.
As Christians, heaven is something which we think we have an idea about, it is certainly our goal and perhaps through the grace of God, it will be our reward also. But we do not properly know what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like: I've seen cartoon images abound of clouds and angels with halos and wings compete with pastoral images of rolling golf courses and big houses. But is that what Heaven is really like?
Christ spoke frequently of the kingdom of heaven and its relationship to this earth, but didn't really describe it in practical terms. It was far more important for him to outline the nature of heaven than its substance. For us, it is the nature of heaven which should be our concern, not the substance. Because, coming from God, it will naturally be a good place.
Thus, this chapter of Matthew, chapter 13, serves to bring together three explorations of the Kingdom of Heaven by likening it to something familiar to the people of the age. Three times in this chapter he uses the phrase “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
Like a man who sowed good seed and had it ruined by an enemy
Like a mustard seed which starts small and grows into something mighty
Like yeast which moves through bread, leavening it and transforming it
We should be careful not to overstep our understanding of these parables, for Christ does not say “The Kingdom of Heaven is”. He says “The Kingdom of Heaven is LIKE”. We are not ready yet for what the kingdom actually is, and so it is revealed to us in language and concepts that we mere human beings can handle.
Each of these examples gives us a glimpse of an aspect of heaven, but without the full picture. Christ, who came from heaven to earth is the only one who is gifted with that full picture.
The parable of the Weeds (or Tares as used in some versions) is for us an indication of future judgment. Throughout his ministry Christ strove to call to repentance rather than to condemn: to encourage inner change rather than to completely reject; to only spring to positive action when faced with absolute evil in the form of the possessed or the money changers of the Temple courts. The reason for his lack of condemnation is rooted less in Christ’s all-pervading forgiveness, but in the sure and certain knowledge that proper judgment will be upon us, and will be administered fairly. The parable we have before us, the weed is darnel which looks like wheat when it starts growing but turns into a plant that is not only a nuisance but is poisonous. Normally, one should try to remove the noxious darnel weeds before they take deep root and intermingle with the wheat but the experienced worker can separate them by the seed head. The owner’s response does not condemn the weeds immediately, but leaves it to the harvest time. He trusts in the judgment process, he trusts that no poison will be left to sour the entire harvest.
As frequently happens, Christ uses a parable, not because it is instantly recognized by the hearers, not in order to perpetuate the prejudices of the listeners, but to subvert their common understanding, to challenge the norm, to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.
Of course, this is what Christ does for us each and every day. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. He takes our ordinary lives and transforms us.
The humble mustard seed is transformed into a shrub, it expands and takes over, filling the area and beyond. That is growth, growth in the spirit, growth in faith and love, growth in our humanity. The flat unleavened bread is tasteless and uninspiring, and it is the yeast which transforms it. Just like our love, yeast grows in the warmth, grows under the pleasure of God. It is more than simply for ourselves that we experience this growth, for we have preached this faith for far longer than the modern ‘self-help’ gurus and life-trainers; the faith in Christ moves beyond the personal and into the collective, making us children of God.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” Well, like nothing on earth really. The Kingdom of Heaven is beyond our human understanding, but on the authority of Christ it will be better than anything we can imagine. It will be broader than the mustard shrub, more fulfilled that the leavened bread, and it is not us or our values who will decide who is there – for that is God’s choice alone. For now, we must continue to grow in Christ’s likeness.
This is why coming to church, It is more than something we do, because we have always done so. We continue to do this, and to encourage others to do this, because it is a part of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives; it is the yeast which pervades us all, and takes something dull and flat and lifeless and makes it something which is good and wholesome and approved of by God. In short, we are building the Kingdom of God here on earth, and getting a taste our future! This is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like!