The Kingdom of heaven is like….
Today’s passage is from the great part of Matthew’s Gospel during which Jesus opens his “mouth in parabes.” He explains what his Father’s Kingdom is like, putting it in terms more people could understand. In fact, it’s part of the same narrative that we’ve been hearing from these last three Sundays of Ordinary Time.
It kind of reminds me of the little sayings, “Life is like…” I think many of us can immediately recall what is probably the most famous, made so by the 1994 movie “Forest Gump.” Forrest says, “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get.” I like these two, both of them told to me by an aging jazz musician, living and playing on the streets of Hollywood when I knew her. She would say, “Paul, life is like a phonograph record. You’ve just got to get in the groove” and “Life is like an onion – you have to peel off one layer at a time, and sometimes, you weep.”
Of them all, though, this one of Jesus’ is favorite of explanations.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… the smallest of seeds, and yet it grows into the largest of plants, and the birds of the sky come and dwell in it’s branches.
There is just so much depth here. At first glance, this may seem to be about God spreading his arms in order to save and give shelter to us, the little sparrows on which he has his eye always. And have you ever seen a mustard seed? They are nearly microscopic (well, to my crazy eyes they’re pretty hard to see).
But add the next verse, and I think you’ll see what hits me like a ton of bricks. “The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed with wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
The whole batch.
Yesterday’s Gospel, from the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, is part of this wonderful section of Matthew’s Gospel, and includes a verse which, I feel, drives the point home. It reads,
“The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.” (Matthew 13:47-48)
Every kind of fish has a chance. Even the bad ones get caught in the net with the good. All the flour is mixed until the whole batch is leavened. That gives me such hope, both for me and you, but also for our society and world today. It doesn’t matter if we’re good or bad, broken, repaired, towing baggage of the past… we’re all fertile ground.
So planting the seeds, gathering the wheat, leavening the bread… Growing the kingdom. It’s all about making the most of the God who lives in us, and bringing that gift to our area of the vineyard.
Sure, it’s just a small seed… but that’s only the start. Yeast, yes – but alone it can do nothing. It takes more than one thing to build the kingdom. We need rich soil, water, sunlight, weeding, tending, nurturing, caring. Little by little, the branches will grow. From those humble, miniscule beginnings, an enormous life will emerge. From tiny seed to the mighty Sequoia. It’s got to start
somewhere, and it needs help to flourish. And we’re all, each one of us, called to tend and care for the seedlings in our hearts, and the hearts of each person we meet… and especially the hearts of those people we don’t want to care for. The homeless, the outcast, the sick, the family member who hurt us, the spouse who betrayed us, those who are “different” (whatever that means).
So, today, how about we all let God plant that seed of his Kingdom in our hearts right now?
How about we become the fertile ground and the yeast, the gardener and the caretaker?
How about we do that for others too?
This way, we can watch the Kingdom grow.
Does it matter if we’re perfect? The scripture says No. And have no fear, for as it is written in our first reading today, “My angel will go before you.”
Dear God of all, thank you for the gift of the seed. Grant us the grace to tend the garden of our hearts, and especially the hearts of all the faces of Christ we meet day to day. Amen.
Paul Puccinelli is Director of Liturgy & Music at St. Rita Parish in Sierra Madre, CA, and a member of the Retreat-Team at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center.