I had the privilege of working on a mission in Chile several times during the 1990s and 2000s. It was an RC educational mission based in a really poor rural part of Chile. The priest, a lovely man called Father Ricardo, was part of a movement called liberation theology. This movement sought to help the peasants or campesinos as they called themselves find God’s message for themselves and to help them to improve their living standards.
This was very subversive to both the hierarchical church and the wealthy in South America who benefited from keeping the campesinos poor. The official church supported the wealthy by promising the campesinos what Father Ricardo called “pie in the sky when you die”. In other words the campesinos were being told to put up with a rubbish life now to gain the rewards of heaven after death. Liberation theology encouraged the campesinos to have a better life now as well as having the hope of heaven in the future.
I wonder if that rings any bells for you from our gospel reading this morning. The reading gathers together a series of saying or mini parables that Jesus used to describe the kingdom of heaven. Normally when we hear the word heaven we think about the place “in the sky” where hopefully we will go to at the end of this life.
This is not what Jesus is talking about. We can blame Matthew for confusing us because the kingdom of heaven in this context is not about the next life. Matthew uses the phrase the kingdom of heaven where the other gospels use the term the Kingdom of God. So what we heard this morning is Jesus describing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a euphemism for heaven or for the end of time. The Kingdom of God is this world once it operates totally in accord with God’s loving purposes for it.
As Christians, Jesus hopes and expects that we will make the choice to live out God’s purposes in the here and now of our lives. To do this we have to choose between God’s Kingdom and the world’s kingdom. In other words’ we are being asked to make the same choice as King Solomon did in our first reading. King Solomon is at the beginning of his reign. God invites him to pray for whatever he wants. Solomon prays for wisdom to discern what is right. His prayer and choice were pleasing to God. Solomon has chosen God’s will rather than worldly success of riches and power.
Reading about Solomon makes it seem easy – it is so clear that Solomon chose correctly. However, it is not always so easy for us. Recently someone was struggling with an issue in our church life. He said to me, “it can be so hard to know what the Christian response should be – some situations are not clear cut”. I can’t explain the situation other than to say it was how to respond to a fellow member of the church. However, I know only too well the dilemma he was facing.
I find it reassuring to know that 2000 years ago the disciples found it equally hard to understand what the Kingdom of God really meant for them in their day to day lives. Jesus’ words from our reading today were designed to help them and are to help us understand it bit more about the Kingdom of God. Jesus does not provide us with a list of dos and don’ts but using everyday events and things he tries to paint us a picture or a series of pictures. From those pictures I have found seven pointers to the kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God, that can reassure and encourage us as we attempt to live out God’s will in our lives.
Firstly, as with the mustard seed, the Kingdom of God has small beginnings. It begins in one person or one group who do things in line with God’s will and their example spreads out. The smallest act by anyone of us that reflects God’s love for God’s creation will help build the Kingdom of God. Secondly, like the leaven in the flour, when we act in line with God’s love, we can and do change things. The change might only affect one other person to start with but that is a good start.
Thirdly, the work of the Kingdom of God is often unseen but its results are seen. Turning again to the leaven in the flour, we cannot see it as it works but we do see its result as the dough turns from a heavy lump in the bubbling light dough ready to be baked. Other people might not know the specific acts we have done but they will see the results in one way or another. The fourth pointer shown in these mini parables is that the Kingdom of God is found in the everyday. We don’t have to come to church although that certainly will strengthen and encourage us. It is in our everyday lives that we can really build the Kingdom of God.
The fifth pointer I have found sounds tough although from personal experience I know it is not. This comes from both the field with the hidden treasure and the pearl of greatest beauty. The Kingdom of God is worth giving up everything to work for it. That sounds like a hard grind but it is not. It does not mean giving up every possession or all our income. It simply means giving up whatever keeps us separated from God or distracts us from doing God’s will. That leads to my sixth pointer. Doing God’s will is beautiful and satisfying. The pearl that is found is a thing of greatest beauty and so it is when we live our lives in accordance with God’s will.
The seventh pointer is a bit harder to understand. It is Jesus’ comments about scribes who find good in both the old and the new. Jesus was referring to the fact that he was building on the Old Testament, taking the good from it and then making it even better. For us, I think that means that we use what is already good in our lives and, strengthened by Jesus, we use that for even greater good.
So those are the pointers I have taken from Jesus’ words this morning:
- small things and small actions count;
- we can change things for the better;
- others may not see God working through us but they will see the results;
- our opportunities to live out God’s will are found in the everyday of our lives;
- it is worth giving up anything that stops us from following Jesus;
- it proves to be easy and beautiful following Jesus
- we can do all this using what is already good in our lives.
If we keep those pointers in mind day by day, we will find it easier to assist God in bringing about his purposes in this life. In doing that, we will be doing the same as Father Ricardo was doing with the campesinos of Chile – bringing about the fulfilment of God’s love in people’s lives today – the kingdom of heaven here in the Itchen Valley.