What is the kingdom of God like? Like raising children.
A Reflection for Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Find today’s readings here.
Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like?
To what can I compare it?” (Lk 13:18)
Today’s Gospel invites us to reflect on what the kingdom of God looks like.
Jesus offers two analogies, a mustard seed and yeast, and I confess that I don’t find either particularly compelling. This may be because I am not a farmer and I do not bake my own bread. So I am not often in a position to observe or reflect on the small miracles that occur when you plant a seed or set aside bread to leaven.
But it also may be because these analogies seem a bit simple and self-evident. Of course a seed will grow into a tree; of course bread will rise. For me the coming of the Kingdom requires an analogy of a different order.
So what is the Kingdom of God like to me? To what can I compare it?
The Psalm offers an image that I find helpful: “Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; Your children like olive plants around your table.”
I would like to focus on the second part of this passage: “Your children [are] like olive plants around your table.” For me, the growth of my children, all of the challenges they bring and the rewards they offer, helps me to conceive of the kingdom of God.
In what ways? For one, raising children is a whole lot of work, a day-in-day-out struggle that requires every virtue we are called as Christians to develop. Like the kingdom, it is an ongoing project, one that requires my full and conscious commitment. Raising children also offers glimpses of the kingdom: in children’s innocent questions, in the purity of their emotions, in the blossoming of their minds.
I am constantly reminded that I have to rely on God, that I cannot engineer my children to act like me or do what I want them to do. So too with the kingdom.
Like the mustard seed, children will grow; like yeast, they will develop. But as a parent, you know that, like the coming of the kingdom, it is ultimately out of your control. You can till the soil and water the seed but ultimately you must rely on God’s love and grace to bring it to bloom.
I am very aware of my own need for God’s grace as a parent. I do not always know how to respond to my children’s questions or emotions. I am constantly reminded that I have to rely on God, that I cannot engineer my children to act like me or do what I want them to do. I have to accept the gift of their lives in all their complexity.
So too with the kingdom. We do not know when it will come, or what it will look like. We can certainly be sure we will have no hand in designing it. We can, however, do the work. We can work the soil and knead the dough; we can put dinner on the table and help with the homework; we can model Christian care and love.
And we can pray that, like the mustard tree, our children will flower, and the birds of the sky will find a home in their branches.