Surprise ! The Kingdom of Heaven is not what we expect

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Surprise ! The Kingdom of Heaven is not what we expect
Saturday after the Feast of Theophany
10 January, 2009
Ephesians 2:11-13 ; Luke 13:18-29
Ephesians 6:10-17 ; Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

What our Lord is saying to us today in these parables is very much apropos to the way we are living now. Not that human beings throughout the ages have been so different, but we are particularly obnoxious in our current behaviour, I would say. This little grain of mustard seed that our Lord is talking about today is a seed (as I have seen) that is very, very tiny indeed. I think it is even smaller than a poppy seed. However, our Saviour says that this little, tiny seed grows into a very large sort of tree so that birds come and nest in it. Then He compares the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast, the grains of which also are quite small. A little bit of yeast goes a long way. A little bit of yeast in a large amount of flour makes all the dough rise considerably, and multiply over and over again in volume.

This is the whole point. The way of Christ is and always has been a hidden way. It is not loud and brash. It is not “me, me, me : look at me, and pay attention to everything that I have been doing”. It is not “look at all my virtues, my strength, and what a good person I am”. All these ideas that we have been living in and growing up amongst are opposite to what our Lord is saying about the way of the Kingdom. The proper way for the Orthodox Christian is to be a lover of God and a doer of the Lord’s will. It is the Lord who turns our little-grain-of-mustard-seed existences into something that is beautiful, good, strong, and life-giving, to His glory, and for the good of the people around us.

Let us consider that grain of mustard seed, for instance. It is simply growing in the garden, and then it becomes a tree which is a home for birds, as our Saviour is saying. Birds come and live in this tree. They probably eat the leaves of the tree, as well. A little grain of yeast makes a big loaf of bread which is very good to eat. In fact, bread is and always has been a staple of life for most of the world (as far as human beings have been involved in it). The way of the Christian does not consist in calling all sorts of attention to oneself, but rather in knowing who we are in the Lord, knowing that the Lord loves us, and that we love Him. It is knowing that He is prepared to forgive us our iniquities, to forgive us our mistakes, to forgive us our selfishness, and to forgive the other occasions on which we (even deliberately) go astray from Him. He is there with His love to accept our repentance, to help us turn about, and to help us become productive and life-giving like this mustard seed and these little grains of yeast.

Our Lord says in a parable at the end of today’s Gospel reading that knowing about Him is not enough. In the parable, He says that that people would come late at night, and knock on the door of the master, and ask to come in. The lord of the house would answer, in effect : “I do not know who you are”. They reply : “We were listening to you teaching in our streets, and we were always around there”. The lord of the house says (as it were) : “I still do not know who you are”. It is the same thing with the Lord Himself, when we are knocking on His door. Why does He not know who they are ? It is because they did not understand what He was saying, and they could not and would not enter into a living relationship with Him. They treated Him as though He were some sort of philosopher, idea-maker, politician or whatever, instead of treating Him as the God-Man who loves the world and whose Kingdom is not of the world. His Kingdom is in, but not of, the world. The Kingdom is in our hearts, but it is not of the world, because to be of the world means to be in rebellion. There is a difference. We can be in the world and be in harmony with the Lord. However, if we become of the world, that means that we become attached to the world ; we become attached to things, instead of attached to the Lord, Himself.

In other words, everything has to be in its right order. We love the Lord, and our relationship with the Lord is first above everything else. As a consequence of this, everything else falls into place. The Lord loves us. We love Him. We turn away from darkness to His light. We turn away from the fallenness and rebellion of the world to loving harmony and obedience to Him. Life comes. Joy comes. Strength comes. Eternal life comes. By the way, when people are speaking about salvation, salvation does not simply mean being rescued or spared or delivered. Salvation has to do primarily with health (if we look at Latin etymology, and so forth). Salvation has to do with being healthy and whole. Being healthy and whole can only come in a life that is conformed to the Lord in the Kingdom.

Let us ask the Lord today to help us to live our lives like that. The Apostle Paul is saying today (as it were) : “Do not let any of these dark, evil deeds be seen amongst you”. The fact is that in our fallenness some such things do occur from time to time. However, the Lord, in His mercy, helps us to overcome these dark and evil deeds and the pressure to conform to the world, so that these dark deeds, these acts of rebellion and whatever else, do, in time, fade away. His love prevails, and this is what matters. This is what counts. Let us ask the Lord to help us to grow and to mature in this relationship of love with Him so that our lives may become completely pleasing to Him. Let us glorify Him, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.