“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”
My first couple of years in college were extremely difficult. Not only was I ill prepared for serious study, I was emotionally and spiritually confused. Now, you might be wondering if any high school graduates are healthy in any of these ways when they first step onto the freshly cut grass of a university campus. At that pivotal point in life, I think most of us are ambivalent about who we really are. That is what makes the experience so valuable, so life changing. That is not to say by any means that the university experience is paramount to other experiences. It is just that it was what I needed to face, it was my rite of passage. I was drowning in many ways, and I felt as though something cataclysmic had to occur for me to become something more than who I was at that point. I was also very bitter, feeling betrayed by the church, by people who were called to be humble servants. Moreover, I was fresh out a relationship that had lasted over a couple of years, and it was very much an anchor for me in times when violent winds threatened to capsize me. I approached college life very dissonant about reality, relationships, and God.
And yet there was something about this setting that prepared me for a truth that I had been waiting on for quite some time. I had grown up in church, not willingly by the way, for the whole thing really perplexed me as far as I can remember. As a child I talked during Sunday school lessons, I can even remember cursing one time and wondering if God was going to send lightning to kill me right at that moment. For the life of me I could not remember the names of the disciples, the books of the bible, nor could I recite a single passage. I found my peers to be from quaint, serene looking families, and I wondered if mine was distorted or if I was just the odd one out. The kids had no problem doing “sword drills”, which consisted of finding a book in the bible and its subsequent chapter. They did this in seconds while I was still thumbing through the pages to find the index, at the same time frantically looking around to see if anyone noticed that I had still not found the right page. Needless to say, I felt myself peculiar in this group of perfection incarnate.
As a teenager, I found it odd that we would speak of a person who lived in the past as living today, that somehow a diety lived “in my heart”, and that I could get out of hell free if I just prayed one prayer and really meant it. One of the bigger issues for me was that I would notice that the people who proclaimed these truths seemed superficial and smiled more than the usual person should. I had grown weary of religion, of church, and I decided by college that I was not going to participate anymore. It was probably a self righteous move on my part, but in the middle of all that messiness there was a kernal of innocence for what I desired.
As I said before, I was confused about every aspect of my life; my reality, my relationships (to others and to myself), and with my God. As I began to take courses, I was astonished to learn in depth about other religions, other philosophies, other stories that were told by different cultures. Who was I to think that I was right entirely? Was I right at all? I also longed for a community that strove to live boldly, to serve fervantly, and to love others in a gentle and humble manner. Where does such a place exist? Who dreams these dreams as well? As far as my relationship to God, I understood, on some minute level, that forgiveness was part of the whole deal, and that was very comforting for me. And yet I wanted more. What was this more? If I was “right with God”, why did I still feel so alien, so incomplete?
I’m more than certain many of you have had these same thoughts. When you look at other cultures, is there something you envy in them that you feel we are lacking? And when you listen to other people tell stories of how their faith has impacted them, and how authentic their description seems to be, do you question as well if their experience was real or not?
And what about your relationships? I think, when you really search yourself, no matter how hardened or how cynical you may have become towards other people and our capacity to know and love each other, you really long for people that love and live boldly. And you wish the same from yourself more often than not. But what about that loaded term… God? Who is that? What does (s)he really want? Is there anything out there in the first place?
Maybe you have had similar thoughts and dreams. Perhaps, as we begin to look closely at what we are dealing with, our shared dissonance can be explained. One of the things I realized as a collegiate, and sadly I learned this latter than most, was that the world I was experiencing was unjust. It was as if everything had been cracked a bit, maybe in reality it was all broken, and it was in desperate need of being repaired. And the thing of it is, everyone knows it deep down. I think the reason we long for a better world, and why our hope for its coming is so familial, is because we were made for that kind of place. I sensed this in my late high school years reading C.S. Lewis, but it didn’t quite take a hold of me until I started reading the works of Dallas Willard, Rodney Clapp, N.T. Wright, and Brian McLaren. They were all saying a certain phrase that seemed too beautiful for me to understand, and it was truly too great to be grasped. It was the phrase “the kingdom of God”.
As I began to read these authors, and as they forced me to look back into the pages of scripture, I began to realize how much this idea is prevalent in the gospels. Even more, this idea is embedded throughout the new testament, deeply intertwined in Paul’s message, and I believe we fail to recognize it’s presence because for Paul to mention it throughout his letters would have been completely tedious due to the fact that his readers were extensively informed about it previously.
And, like Jesus said, the kingdom does seem hidden to most of us, with its message of feasts and workers and harvests and such. It is foreign to us and yet familial. It is a putting of the world to rights, and it is the answer we long for, yet it is something we have never experienced up to this point. I think it is the dream that will one day awaken us. And I hope that when we wake we won’t be able to tell where the dream ended and reality began again. Maybe, to put it more accurately, it is the only dream that will ever fully be accomplished. If there is a metaphor that I have come to embrace as true for this dreaming of the reign of God, it is the image of eating the crumbs off a table. If Jesus describes God’s kingdom as a feast that is being prepared, then our dreams of its reality are the crumbs that fall off of God’s dining table. When we begin to taste what the world should be like in these crumbs, and as we begin to experience justice and take part in it as well, we become hungry for more. But a crumb never satisfies, it only prepares us for what is to come. Justice is coming, truth is becoming immanent, love is drawing near, treasures are being found.