I find it amusing that whenever Jesus talked about the kingdom of heaven, he never said what it is; only what it is like.
Maybe he was onto something. N. T. Wright puts it this way:
“Throw a rule book at people’s head, or offer them a list of doctrines, and they can duck or avoid it or simply disagree and go away. Tell them a story, though, and you invite them to come into a different world.”
Allow me to weave some of the images Jesus gave us of the kingdom into a little story to give us a fuller view.
Imagine you’re walking through a town, and on your left side is a field—it’s a wheat field, but you notice something peculiar about it: right alongside the growing wheat plants are bunches and bunches of weeds. (Turns out that while the seeds were first being planted, someone ran through and planted a number of weeds in the mix too), but, to your surprise, the farmer decided to let them grow—wheat and weeds—together, then one day, he’ll separate the two. What could this mean and what is he up to?
You continue walking along the path and come across another field, this time on your right, and then, behind you, you hear some footsteps and they get closer and closer. There’s a man, running in the distance but he’s gaining speed. You turn around and take a look and—strangely enough—he’s carrying what appears to be all of his possessions. But he’s giddy and he’s singing at the top of his lungs about some treasure he believes is buried deep in that ground, so he’s bringing everything he owns—everything he has—so he can sell them all and buy that field—whatever he’s found, or believes he’s found, it must be something spectacular.
You pass a local vineyard, and the smells are intoxicating. Then something else catches your attention: you see a man (the owner) paying his employees—some who worked an hour, others the whole day—yet they’re all paid the same amount. What kind of economy is this?
At that moment, you hear a woman exclaim, “I found it! I found it!” and at that, dozens of neighbors storm into her house to celebrate together about what turned out to be nothing more than finding a coin that she’d lost weeks ago but discovered while sweeping. And you wonder, “Really? All this over a lost penny?”
While on the road, next you find a seed—a little mustard seed—no bigger than a sesame seed. You pick it up and observe it, taking note of its overall texture and rather small size. And then you overhear something, this voice that calls to you and says, “You know, with faith no bigger than this seed, you could move mountains.”
A bit spooked, you keep walking, but now head down. You kick around some rocks until you hear some noise. You lift your head up to notice a Father (beard down to his waist and wearing a long robe) and he’s racing toward the road. He’s running toward his long lost son who squandered away his entire inheritance by telling the dad just months before that he wanted nothing to do with him anywhere, and wished he was dead.
And yet, before your very eyes, you see this elderly father running toward him with tears streaming down his face. The young man opens his mouth to apologize, but is quickly interrupted by this Father who clothes him in the family robe, puts a ring on his finger, sandals on his bloodied feet, and wraps him up in a warm embrace. The Father invites his neighbors and family in and says, “My son was dead, but now he’s alive! He once was lost, but now, he’s found!” And they celebrate, rejoicing together over radical forgiveness that could lead to such a reunion between these two people.
Do you long to see this happen in your own life? to sell all you have for something that you know deep down is of far greater value? that the faith you have (however small) in a better future could lead to massive mountain-moving results? that the things you find joy in would be celebrated by neighbors no matter how insignificant they may seem? and that when you fail others miserably, you aren’t shamed or guilted, but instead, are embraced with love and forgiveness?
This is what the Kingdom of heaven is like.