by Father Mark Goldasich
It’s been so hot here in northeast Kansas, that the other day I actually saw a melted ice cream truck. Granted, it was only a picture of one in an e-mail, but still. It seems as if this unrelenting heat wave is on everyone’s mind. It’s all that we can talk about. People have observed that it’s been so hot in Kansas that …
• A coyote was chasing a rabbit and they were both walking. • The cows are giving evaporated milk.
• Potatoes are actually cooking in the ground, and all you have to do for lunch is pull one out and add butter, salt and pepper.
• You eat hot chilies to cool your mouth off.
• You can make instant sun tea.
• A seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron.
• The temperature drops below 95 and you feel a bit chilly.
• Hot water now comes out of both taps.
• You realize asphalt has a liquid state.
• It’s noon in July, kids are on summer vacation, and not one person is out on the streets.
• Farmers are feeding their chickens crushed ice to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs. (Found at the Web site: http://airjudden.tripod.com/funnystuff/funnykansas.html.)
OK, OK, I’ll stop. My point, though, is simple: When we try to describe the indescribable, we often resort to pictures or images.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Gospel these past three weeks, you know that Jesus has been teaching about the kingdom of heaven, using images of a man sowing seed, a buried treasure, a fine pearl, and a net thrown into the sea. These vivid pictures are meant to get us to ponder, to create our own pictures of the kingdom of heaven.
It’s always been interesting to me that some preachers spend a whole lot of time and energy describing “the other place”; you know, the one that’s the opposite of heaven. I suspect that their motives are to scare us so thoroughly that we can’t help but live holier lives. Because their images seem so detailed, though, I sometimes wonder if those preachers have actually spent time in that other place!
Sadly, we spend far less time reflecting on the kingdom of heaven. What is it like? Here are a few descriptions from children in a religious education class:
• Heaven is up in the sky, and you could look down at circuses for free if you want to, except you have to ask God for permission first. (Scott)
• Heaven is kind of big and they sit around playing harps. I don’t know how to play a harp, but I suppose I should learn how to play that dumb thing pretty soon. (David, 7)
• I know what heaven is, but I don’t want to go there. I want to go to North Carolina instead. (Tommy, 7) (Found in “Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations & Quotes” by Robert J. Morgan.)
So, how would you describe heaven? Most of us would probably conjure up images of angels, wings, streets paved with gold, the Pearly Gates with St. Peter peering at the Book of Life, and, yes, even harps. But all of those “things” miss the main point: Heaven is all about relationships. We are in the presence of Love (God) and rubbing shoulders with what we call the communion of saints. All other things are really insignificant when you’re surrounded by love. It’s sort of like spending time enjoying a meal with friends: It doesn’t matter if you’re at an expensive restaurant or at Sonic; it’s the company that’s the most important thing. Everything else fades into the background.
The images that Jesus has been using tell us that the kingdom of heaven is valuable — a hidden treasure or a fine pearl — and it’s definitely “worth” giving our time and energy here on earth — to “sell all we have” — to possess it. And the most incredible thing is that we don’t even have to wait until we die to see heaven. While still here on earth, we get glimpses of that kingdom of God whenever we encounter genuine love, compassion, understanding, peace, joy, or forgiveness. The kingdom of God is breaking in all around us . . . if we have the eyes to see it.
Complaining about this heat won’t make things any better. Instead, let’s spend some time looking for all that’s right in the world, catching a glimpse of that wonderfully “cool” place — heaven — already present in our lives here and now. And, even better, let’s live in such a way that others will experience a taste of heaven, by how we treat them.
Sorry, but I just heard today’s hot forecast and can’t resist one last observation. It’s said that a sad Kansan once prayed, “Lord, I wish it would rain — not so much for me, since I’ve seen it, but for my seven-year-old.”