It was a day of sweltering heat in Virginia, last summer. The heat index reached 105 degrees and a heat warning was in effect. 8-year-old Carmine McDaniel stocked a cooler full of cold water and Gatorade and left it outside his house. Why did he do that? He did it for his mailman, Mr. Henry.
He left a note on the cooler. “Mailman, water and Gatorade in cooler. Have a good day…and smile.” Mr. Henry came and found this surprise. A security camera captured the moment.
He says, “Thank God, thank you,” as he finds this thoughtful gift, and he snags a couple cold drinks. The simple act of kindness made the mailman’s day. This beautiful story went viral on social media and in the news, and inspired many people including myself to do the same.
I recalled this news while reflecting on Jesus’ parables in today’s Gospel reading, where Jesus illustrates “the kingdom of heaven.” I thought, the kingdom of heaven may come like the story of this little boy. Perhaps, the kingdom of heaven may be realized like this simple act of the boy, just as it touched the mailman’s heart and empowered many others to do the same. And our reality may get closer and closer to the kingdom of heaven through such small moments of practicing love and mercy in our daily lives. Bottles of ice-cold water and Gatorade… they might look insignificant to others, but with them, the boy certainly changed a part of our world into the heavenly kingdom.
Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs.” “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast mixed in with three measures of flour” and it leavens them all (Matthew 13:31-33). A mustard seed and yeast… they look insignificant, and actually, almost invisible to our eyes. But they do have power transforming reality. Jesus says it clearly… that’s how the kingdom of heaven works!
However, ordinary Jewish people of Jesus’ days, who heard his parables, had a very different idea about the kingdom of heaven. You know they lived under the rule of the Roman Empire, so they imagined that God’s kingdom will come with great power to judge other nations and restore all the glory of David and Solomon’s kingdom. Also, the most common biblical image of the kingdom was the Cedar of Lebanon, a great tree that makes the finest material for a palace or a temple (Ezekiel 17:22-23).
To the people with this image of Cedar in their mind, Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed and yeast. How weird would it sound? Jesus’ parables must be the strangest thing they’d ever heard about the kingdom of heaven.
Then, how does the parables sound to us today? Have you ever imagined the kingdom of heaven? If yes, how does it look like? Is the kingdom powerful and glorious? Can you easily associate the image of the kingdom of heaven with a mustard seed and yeast? Today, I believe Jesus is inviting us to see the other side of the kingdom of heaven as he did for the people of his days. He wants us to see not only God’s kingdom of judgment that will come in the future, but also the kingdom of grace that has already begun with Jesus and is being built by his followers little by little. Jesus wants us to see not only the heaven that will come with God’s great rewards someday, but also the heaven that is already among us in God’s daily blessings. Indeed, with his parables, Jesus is trying to turn our eyes to see the other side, the hidden side of the kingdom of heaven that is here and now; that is small yet transformative, invisible yet invaluable, like a mustard seed, like yeast, and like the boy’s bottles of drink.
Then, how can we find this kingdom of heaven that is hidden? Through the following two parables, Jesus gives us the answer. Jesus explains that this unnoticeable kingdom of heaven comes to the sight of those who search for it, those who know its value, and those who are willing to dedicate everything to it. He says, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).
Thinking of the treasure hidden in a field and the pearl of great value, I could recall the story of the boy one more time. I believe the boy had to pay some money to fill the cooler with bottles of water and Gatorade. And for this 8-yeard old, it could be big money. He might have to use his savings, a dollar he earned from cleaning his room, a dollar from shining his dad’s shoes. He might have to break his precious piggy bank. But the boy was the one who did find the surpassing value of serving his mailman on a hot day and the heavenly joy of sharing love and gratitude with him. The boy was the one who did find hidden treasure and one pearl of great value in his life. And he was willing to give everything he had to keep his kindness and love. In his giving, we see the heavenly kingdom germinating and growing in the world.
Sisters and brothers in Christ, as the followers of Jesus Christ, are you doing your best to grow the kingdom of heaven in the world? Have you found your hidden treasure or a pearl of great value in your lives and give everything to keep it to your own? Even if you haven’t found it, don’t worry too much. Just look around and start from what you can do. Start from a small thing in your family, in the church, at your work, and in the community. And keep on doing it. It might look insignificant, but Jesus says our small yet valuable efforts and actions will reveal the kingdom of heaven and build it here and now. It’s like a ripple effect. A small stone, dropped into a still water, makes ripples and expands them across the water.
And many of us are already doing it in many different ways. I’m really proud of our youth and children doing the backpack drive this year. They started this mission that they can give what they can. I believe their mission grows the kingdom of heaven in our community. And Rev. Aguilh’s Haiti Hope House mission is truly building God’s kingdom in Haiti. Our participation in his mission, our small donation to the mission can really change one young man or woman’s life. And how about your dedication to the church and your practice of mercy and love for the people around you? They might look small; but when you find heavenly value in loving them and helping them, make sure you keep on doing by all the means you can. God will grow the kingdom of heaven from you. So let us keep sowing our mustard seed and put our yeast in the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In so doing, we will surely find invaluable treasures and pearls of heavenly blessing. Amen.