Jesus likes parables. He used them to illustrate lessons in a variety of settings and circumstances. He understood that in order for us to try and wrap our minds around intangible, deep spiritual truths, we must equate them to something familiar, something we can grasp.
We still benefit from this approach. Images of lesser things can give us new perspective on God and His work, bringing us to a fuller understanding. I know it helps me. When I push myself to dig deeper into a concept or question, clarifying pictures often come to mind. And as one whose job is to teach others truth in understandable ways, this has proved to be invaluable.
One concept that Jesus explained by image time and again is that of the kingdom of heaven. He likened it to a mustard seed, yeast, net, treasure, and more. It was an idea too broad to be captured by one simple view, but is a multi-faceted, rich presentation of all that God is doing. It is central in what we do and teach here in Arequipa.
But why does it matter here and now? If it is what God will deliver ready-made at the end of time, why don’t we just keep our noses clean and wait patiently for His timing? Lots of parables talk about readiness, so let’s just focus on being ready ourselves and sit tight. Right?
Consider it this way:
I like my house clean. My family knows this and pitches in, but when it comes down to it, I’m the only one who can tweak and polish the last little details to my satisfaction. I value completion. For now, I am teaching my kids how to clean up, giving tips, instructions, developing their ability.
Let’s keep it real; we live in this house and it gets trashed just like everyone else’s. It’s a constant work in progress. But let’s say I am leaving the house for the day and I ask my kids to get started cleaning up while I’m gone. I tell them that when I get back, we’ll finish up together. They know that at the end of the day, the house will be clean and that the final product will not have depended on them. I told them I would help and I’m the real polisher in this situation. I’m not truly demanding any particular performance or perfect results delivered at an exact time.
But I am expecting participation. They have time and enough know-how and understanding to head in the right direction. The only wrong action is lack thereof. Their progress will directly affect the result; I won’t undo what they have done. There is value in each minute that they choose to spend completing what I have requested of them. It is an active, honoring, obedient love that contributes to what I value seeing completed at the end of the day.
Shift back to the kingdom of heaven. Everywhere Jesus went, things were put right. Bodies healed, spirits encouraged, sins forgiven, arrogance condemned. The balance shifted, if only for that moment, and things were as they should be. This was the teaching by example, showing us how things can and should be when the King’s influence shows up. He was demonstrating to us how to “clean up”.
Then He left. He told us to keep cleaning up until He returns to finish the job. We all know the world is trashed. But rather than throwing up our hands in despair or simply withdrawing to a safe, quiet corner to wait for Him to come to all the work, we are to roll up our sleeves and dive in. He teaches us how, gives little instructions, tips and strength. The final product doesn’t really depend on us. He is the real power in this situation. He is not demanding anything in particular.
But He is expecting participation. The only wrong action is lack thereof. He won’t undo what we do, but will use every bit of kindness, hope, service and love in constructing the finished, beautiful, restored world that He knows can be achieved. There is value in each moment that we choose to do what He has asked of us, when we live out an active, honoring, obedient love.
It can be discouraging, when we tire and feel like our efforts have been wasted. It can be overwhelming, when we look up and see all the brokenness still unaddressed. We can feel beyond inadequate, understanding Moses’ plea for God to send someone else.
But the faithfulness He asks is just that to do the work He puts before us. That person who needs encouragement. That class that needs a leader. That family that needs a financial boost. That single mom who needs a babysitter and a night out. That lonely person who needs a kind word and invitation to friendship. That broken person who needs to be reminded that Jesus is head over heels for broken people.
It’s hard. It’s needed. It’s our job.