The last couple of weeks the gospel has been filled with parables about the kingdom of heaven. The parables of the sower and the seed, the parable of the weeds and the wheat, and today the parables of the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, and the net thrown in the sea. Now I might have cheated and looked ahead at the gospels coming up in the next few Sundays ahead of us and today is the last time we are going to have parables for a while. So I want you to confront the same question that Jesus asked the disciples: “do you understand these things?”
A priest who taught me in college more-or-less asked that during a lecture. It was a scripture class and he asked us to describe what the kingdom of heaven was, not as we might imagine but as the scriptures themselves described. I realized at that moment (while hoping he didn’t randomly call on me) that it is quite hard to understand and express what the parables explain with such simple images. The answer this good priest gave us was that the kingdom of heaven is all of creation restored to what God originally intended it to be, a world without sin and suffering. That’s why Jesus talks both about the kingdom of heaven being present (since the saving action of his passion, death, and resurrection is the victory over sin and death) and also why he talks about it as coming to fulfillment (because it’s not until the Second Coming and the final judgment that sin and death are wiped away). And that’s why the parables so often talk about growth (because the kingdom is something the world must change to become) and also judgment (because sin cannot be part of it).
The kingdom of heaven, then, is brought to fulfillment partially by our own lives. We must work on that growth. The more that we live in goodness and holiness and peace with one another, the more that kingdom become a living reality. Some of us resonate with the parable of the treasure in the field. The person who found it wasn’t looking for it, he just happened upon it and jumped at the chance to buy the field and possess it. Just like that, many of us just kinda stumbled into a life of faith that we weren’t really looking for. I know at least for myself, I had good and devout parents and just slowly went deeper into faith as the years have went by. Others of us are more like the merchant searching for the great pearl, people who knew that something wasn’t quite complete in their life and finally after great struggle and searching found the pearl of faith. But regardless of how we got here… it’s the same response. Once we finally see the treasure or the pearl that we have in our hands the only reasonable response is to secure and protect it. Once we find that friendship with God, we learn how to live in a way that keeps us close to Him. We grow and we change to correspond to what we have found.
But to talk about the kingdom of heaven also means that we need to talk about judgment, like the weeds were separated from the wheat and the junk of the sea separated from the good fish. When Christ returns and the kingdom is brought to fulfillment there will be no more sin. We will be, at last, what God longs us to be. Sin is going to be removed from our hearts and our lives, so now is the time to make sure that we aren’t holding onto it too tightly – or worse, that we have made it our lives! – because it has no place in the kingdom.
So what is the kingdom of heaven? Do you understand these things? It is creation transformed by the Cross of Christ and restored to its original holiness, and Jesus asks us if we understand these things because we are a part of it. The kingdom of heaven is what we are supposed to be yearning for and working for. So set deep in your hearts that the kingdom of heaven is what sits on the horizon.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.