Jesus Christ Washing the Feet of His Apostles, by Giotto di Bondone 1304-1306

203. Kingdom of God: Experience, Understanding, and Integration

44 “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. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” [Matthew 13:44-52, NRSV]

 The Tabernacle in the Chapel of the Pearl of Great Price at DLSU-Manila

1. Experiencing the Priceless Value of the Kingdom of God

When Jesus describes the kingdom of God like this, like that and like the other, he taps into his audience’s daily life experiences. In doing so, he leads them to “see” the spiritual depth which is the kingdom of God within us. One moment we see it, and another moment, we seem not to see it. It is elusive because it does not stay at the surface of life. It resides in our spiritual core. And yet, we do feel and see enough of it to experience its priceless quality and we want more.

When we truly experience the preciousness of the kingdom of God, Jesus says we will behave like a discerning merchant who, upon finding one pearl of great value, embarks at once upon the project of selling all he has and buying that one pearl. Experience stands at the origin of every great and relentless human pursuit. Once the pursuit of God’s kingdom is shifted to the top of our scale of values in life, it becomes our primary goal and we will direct everything else towards it. So entry into the kingdom of God, Jesus teaches, is marked by a profound experience that spurs a full process of finding, willingly detaching from worldly possessions, and purchasing that most precious pearl.

2. Understanding What It Takes

This pearl of great price is a metaphor for our life-giving relationship with God. Once we have experienced the finding of this relationship, we shall understand that we need to voluntarily undergo a process of purification to get rid of any and all our unhealthy attachments that tend only to block the working of God’s love in our lives. The process demands a conscious effort on our part.

Fishes caught by the net have to be sorted out, and fishermen do that on shore. Being netted by Jesus the ultimate fisher of people is not the end of the process of following him. Like the fishes that must be examined on shore, so must we be judged and evaluated by how we develop spiritually. We will demonstrate a growing understanding and clarity in Jesus’ kingdom-project on earth, or we fail to show continued progress from the initial moment of revelation. Jesus signifies the seriousness of the spiritual project and its evaluation by comparing this to the angels’ end-time separation of the evil from the righteous.

3. Integrating Understanding with Actions

Integration is never one off, but an ongoing process of understanding which itself must grow and develop. Ultimately, comprehension must necessarily lead to transformation of one’s life.

As we learn more about the kingdom of God, we shall grow wiser and be able, like a scribe who has been so trained, to properly integrate the new and the old. From the storeroom of old and new, a good scribe will respect the wisdom of the past, no doubt. But he must accord due weight, perhaps even more weight sometimes, to new experience and the growth in understanding. After all, one needs to sell (from what currently in hand that is left from the past), in order to be able to buy (that which is new). This in no way means that what we have inherited from the past is neither good nor important; rather, it means that what we have inherited from the past needs to be evaluated. Some old beliefs and set actions may enhance greater understanding of the new experience and contribute towards future actions. Some other old beliefs and set actions may actually impede proper understanding in changed situations and thus must be modified or even discarded.

In our journey in life, a spiritual awakening often brings great benefits, especially in a heightened consciousness of our surroundings that will spur greater passion and purpose in appreciating who we are and what we must do. There is of course the other side to it all, and that is the disruptive character of spiritual experiences. The price of exhilarating experiences is what they unfold into. When it is taken seriously, a spiritual experience demands an evaluation of our priorities in life; we may need to get rid of some old “stuff” and old “commitments” to be able to pursue this new, precious, and spiritually deeper relationship with God. To “buy” that treasure or “pearl” that we have found, there is the painful reality that we may have to “sell”; we may even have to discard and detach ourselves from the many objects, beliefs and so-called “traditions” that we have ardently accumulated and compiled. Wisdom is required to make good use of the reservoir of the old and the new in the light of the ongoing revelation of God in one’s life and in society.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, July 2018. All rights reserved.

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