There has been lots of speculation over the history of this world of what heaven is like. The difficult thing about any definition is that nobody is really sure. People have talked about “moving toward the light” and other sensations as part of near death experiences but it seems there is no absolute definition, primarily because we live in this realm for now and can only speculate about the next. The gospel for today (MT 13:44-52) gives a few good similes, however, that can help us begin to consider what heaven might feel like at least. They’re very familiar: the joy of finding a treasure in a field, the willingness of selling everything to buy a pearl of great price…but then Jesus talks a bit more seriously about our responsibility not to be swayed by externals. At the end of this morning’s text he says that every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.
I find that a very helpful sentence and know the truth of it from my experience of life where so much has changed over the past half century. One of my housemates is fond of quoting our novice director who said (among many other pieces of advice): “Don’t be the first to jump on the bandwagon of any idea or trend, but don’t be the last.” In other words use your mind and intuition to come to a decision on what is good in a changing world.
One of the wisest personages in the Scriptures is Solomon and he appears in today’s lectionary as well. When God gives Solomon “a blank check” for a reward (1KGS 3:5, 7-12) he doesn’t ask for anything material but rather speaks of being young and inexperienced and therefore says: “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Great answer! Would that we would all be so wise!
Perhaps it seems I have veered off from my original intent of writing about what heaven could be like. Not so! All of this is building to a statement of Jesus that seems finally in our lifetime to be considered by many as a way to proceed in this life and to prepare for the next. Not part of today’s readings but essential to this consideration is LK 17:21. Jesus says (perhaps shockingly) “The kingdom of God (or heaven) is within you.” Some translations say “among you” or “in you midst” but the message is clearly that we needn’t wait for our death to live in heaven. It is here, lived by those whose wisdom is akin to Solomon’s. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect but it does mean that we ought to be conscious of God’s presence working at all times and in all places and that we are to participate in this presence. That is a difficult teaching, especially if we live on the level of personality instead of “putting on the mind of Christ.”
I am stopped in my tracks here – thinking that I have opened a very large can of worms that takes more than a few sentences to bring to conclusion. So let me just make a few suggestions for reflection on what putting on the mind of Christ might mean that might lead to more and deeper consideration.
- How would you feel if you found a treasure or won the lottery? What would you do with the money?
- What is your most prized material possession? For whom or what person would you be willing to give it up or even share it?
- What does the concept of “an understanding heart” mean to you? Can you think of times when someone has shown you an example of that reality in a big way?
- What is the level of your self-esteem? Can you believe that the kingdom of heaven exists within you? That your actions and ways of relating further the reality of God in this life? Has anyone ever said anything to you indicating that kind of message (e.g. “You’re an angel!” or ” God must have put you in my life because…”) Did you believe it?
These are just beginning prompts for considering the possibility that we are, in fact, responsible for living the kingdom of God right here, right now. Can you see it? Are you even willing to entertain the concept? That would be a start…