The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who stumbles onto hidden treasure.
Wait–no–the kingdom of heaven is like a guy who is searching for a valuable pearl and finally finds it.
Wait–hold on–the kingdom of heaven is really like a gigantic net that catches all kinds of fish that need to then be sorted out.
Nobody seems to have a harder time explaining what the kingdom of heaven is like than Jesus.
This morning I was listening to an interview on NPR (mostly because I live in Seattle and am a complete and utter nerd). They had interviewed Rev. Gabriel Salguero, a bright and thoughtful evangelical pastor, which I believe happens somewhere in between the frequency of a total eclipse of the sun and Haley’s comet. You should check out the interview here. NPR is currently in the midst of a series profiling the “afterlife,” and the various views world religions may have regarding what is to come. Rev. Salguero used the phrase “where we have learned to live together” to describe the nature of the kingdom of heaven.
And as I sat down to think through Jesus’ own words on the kingdom of heaven, I was pleasantly surprised to find some straightforward information. The kingdom of heaven is like a guy who stumbles on buried treasure, re-hides said treasure, then sells all his possessions to become exponentially wealthier. This is the part where the lions lay down with the lambs.
But Jesus had one more story to go along with that one. In this scenario, a merchant is specifically looking for a valuable pearl and he finally finds it! He repeats the actions of the lucky buried treasure guy and viola! he’s rich.
Just when Jesus peaks in the arena of storytelling though, he makes a reckless sermonic left turn into Confusionville. He has a third story to top off his first two. This one is about a gigantic net that catches a wide array of fish. Hidden treasure, valuable pearls, and random fish. Of course.
If you are at all familiar with how fish get from the ocean to your plate, the story comes with no surprise twist. The same thing happens today when commercial fishermen pull up a net full of tuna with the occasional dolphin mixed in there. The sorting process begins as soon as you pull up the nets. The good fish are kept and the bad fish are thrown into the rubbish heap (though I’m sure the EPA has put some sort of restrictions on such a process today!).
So what does a net full of random fish have to do with a lucky guy and a merchant, who have stumbled upon treasure? Good question.
And I’ve been wracking my brain to figure out what the connection is for the past couple of hours. I’ve come up with two things that these stories, as told together, teach us about the kingdom of heaven.
First of all, there is no formula to acquiring the kingdom of heaven. Some stumble upon it accidentally, others search and find. Still others drag a net to sort through what will be useful and what won’t.
Second, all three stories speak to the necessity of readiness and response. However the treasure has come to you, the challenge is to be ready. Whenever the treasure comes, the response requires thoughtful living.
What else do these stories together tell you about the kingdom of heaven?