“I asked the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars: “We are not the God whom you seek,” said they. To the things that stand around the doors of my flesh I said, “Tell me of my God! Although you are not he, tell me something of him!” With a mighty voice they cried out, “He made us!” My question was the gaze I turned on them; their answer was their beauty.” — Augustine’s Confessions (Book 10, Chapter 6)
What is the “kingdom” that Jesus talks about? Where is it located? How long does it take to get there? What is the official language? The currency? The colors of the flag and the tune of the national anthem? When Jesus refers to this place we think tangible location and visible arrival, yet his descriptions cause conundrum and provide little in terms of clarity and description.
It’s paradox really. In his sermon on the mount, Jesus claims, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”…Poor in spirit? Meek? These people inherit the kingdom? In my world the strong rule and the proud conquer. They take by force and maintain in the same way.
Throughout Matthew, Jesus offers pictures to describe the kingdom. And perhaps these illustrations, while providing nothing in the way of obvious description, offer the most accurate portrayal. In pictures and through metaphor, truth emerges, shining out of the multi-faceted descriptions and allowing for depth and interpretation. “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” and “like yeast.” If I wanted to attract tourism to my kingdom my pitch would vary greatly from these descriptions of small, unassuming items. Yet, while tiny and seemingly insignificant, upon examination, both a mustard seed and yeast carry a capacity and tenacity of production incongruous with their paltry appearances. Mustard seeds grow prolific plants. And yeast, when added to dough and left to rise, expands exponentially and allows for the creation of bread. It is alive and brings growth.
I heard someone once say, “If we could see what was on the other side, we would give all of this up in a second.” Perhaps that is what the kingdom is, the vision to see the invisible, the trust to believe that in weakness there is strength, in poverty of the spirit there is inheritance. What does it take to live in this reality? To believe that if I seek firstly after the kingdom that everything else ensues? I think about those black and white drawings used as a sort of psychological testing tool. Observers are asked what they see. “Two faces”, respond some. “A vase,” offers the others. And both are right depending on the focus, the black parts show two faces while the white space in between shapes the outline of a vase. Focus. Perspective. The vision to look beyond…
How can we see the kingdom?
How do we live in the kingdom while on earth?
What are the characteristics of the kingdom?
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