The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like . . .
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A string of parables describe the kingdom of heaven, and then we hear Jesus’ question: “Have you understood all this?” The mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, pearls—these bring good news of growth and joy and riches. Then come the fish, the furnace of fire, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Once again this week we hear of a God of mercy and justice. Once again there is good news to be heard in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome—nothing will ever separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. How will we reconcile these two images of God?
“Kingdoms” are not common in our world. When most of us think about kingdoms, we call up images of British royalty—Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, jeweled crowns, a palace. At the time the Gospel of Matthew was written, the people were subject to the empire, or kingdom, of Rome. Perhaps the writer wants us to contrast the oppressive rule of Rome with a vision of heaven’s kingdom of love and mercy. The translation of the Greek basileia, a feminine word, usually rendered in English as “kingdom” is difficult. The writer of Matthew may have used the expression “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God” in order not to offend Jewish Christ-believers who honored the word for God by avoiding its use.
King Solomon asks God for the wisdom to discern between good and evil, for the understanding to live out both justice and mercy as a ruler of God’s people. God was pleased with Solomon’s request. The wisdom Solomon seeks to rule his earthly kingdom reflects the wisdom of the kingdom of heaven. King Solomon was variously successful in his discernment of good and evil, as are we.