Today’s Thought: What do you think heaven is like?
“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)
Pollsters love asking, “Do you believe in heaven?” Most who are asked respond that they do. When pressed further for details about what heaven might be like, we hear everything from clouds with harp-playing angels to a place filled with all the things we’ve loved most in our life on earth. The underlying assumption for both being that heaven is somewhere else… somewhere we’re spirited away to when we die. I’m not so sure.
In our scripture today, Jesus responds to the question of what heaven is like. He says, It’s like a mustard seed. As with most metaphors, Jesus reached for an example that his agrarian audience could relate to so they could understand the comparison he was trying to make. But, this was an odd comparison. Shouldn’t the kingdom of heaven be large, similar to the current reigning kingdom of Rome? Otherwise, how could it even be called a kingdom?
As the gospels attest to over and over again, Jesus hasn’t come to reaffirm what humankind already believes. Jesus has come on a mission of reversal: rather than worrying about the correctness of working on the Sabbath, Jesus heals the sick no matter the day; instead of shunning those who are deemed ‘unclean,’ Jesus shares meals with lepers and prostitutes; and now—instead of bragging about an already sizeable kingdom—Jesus says the kingdom is small. But, he says, it will grow.
A mustard seed is incredibly tiny, this is true, but when fully grown it can reach heights of 20 feet or more. And it spreads as it grows, overtaking everything else around it. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is being planted like a small seed, in the assurance that it will take over and change everything else in the landscape.
I believe Jesus’s resurrection was that seed. I believe he gave us the model of what our work as his disciples should be, and it isn’t pining away for our own cloud-resting retirement after we die. Life here and now has purpose, and that purpose is building the kingdom. What do I think heaven is like? I think it’s like the first breath of a newborn baby. I think it’s life.
Monday’s Meditation: “People who believe that Jesus is already Lord and that he will appear again as judge of the world are called and equipped (to put it mildly) to think and act quite differently in the world from those who don’t.” (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)