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7/16/2014 3:21:00 PM
What will heaven be like?

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

Sunday, July 20, 2014
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 12:13, 16-19
Romans 8:26-27
Matthew 13:24-43 or 13:24-30

There isn’t a religious education teacher who hasn’t heard that question and who hasn’t asked it herself. There are simply some experiences that we can’t explain.  The best we can do is use our imagination and remember what other generations of teachers told us. Our explanation becomes a litany that grows longer every time we are asked the question. “Heaven is like…It’s like…It’s like.” Somehow we never find the answer that satisfies us.

Jesus’ followers had a different problem. They thought they knew what sort of kingdom Jesus would bring but the “Kingdom of God” was outside their experience. Jesus had to open them to a kingdom beyond their experience and beyond their imagination.

Again and again, the Lord uses various images to give his listeners some feeling for the kingdom. It’s like a man who sows seed; like a mustard seed; like yeast. I wonder what image he would use to describe it today. Is it like the struggle for religious freedom? Like the fight for justice?  Is it like the battle to eliminate suffering and to end discrimination? Is it like the search for peace?

The nature images were familiar to the Jews. Nature parable after nature parable is Jesus telling us that the kingdom will arrive and that no obstacle will keep it from coming. As surely as there will be a harvest, God’s reign will come.

Today’s liturgy places two responsibilities on Christians. The first is to continually be aware of the power of prayer and the Father’s willingness to tend to his children. The second is to respond to others with the realization that if we are worthy of God’s consideration, others are worthy of our solicitude. Briefly, the call is to pray and to respond to the prayers of others.

Parables are an invitation to write our own stories and to incorporate into them the values we hold most dear. The Book of Wisdom tells us that God has given us his own ability to be kind and just. The Epistle tells us that the Spirit will help in our weakness. Even our prayers, Paul tells us, cannot be adequately expressed in speech.

Most of us learn these things as we mature. The richer our lives become, the older we get, the more often we find ourselves saying, “it’s like” when we try to explain important experiences. Most of us never totally abandon “it’s like” because there are so many experiences that can neither be defined nor adequately described. Often those to whom we speak cannot understand what has happened to us simply because they have not lived long enough.

Today we give praise and thanks to the Father who gives us the power to seek the reign of God in the company of other believers, who gives us stories to tell and prepares those to whom we speak. Yes, the kingdom “is like…”

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