The kingdom of heaven is like a pearl. But it is also like a field. It is like a sower, and wheat and tares and a fishing net. It is like bread and yeast and treasure. Jesus says that the kingdom is like a lot of things.
I think the Kingdom of heaven is a lot like Harold.
He stands about six feet and two inches tall. He has always been a giant compared to me. He has a pouf of unkempt hair that adds a few more inches to his massive frame. He has blue eyes, and wears large print pants from the 1970s made of an indeterminable plastic fabric. His shirt is always just a little dirty and spotted, despite it being ironed and starched into submission. His name is Harold and he is 89 years old.
A veteran of WWII, Harold was my neighbor three years ago. I would often fondly remember him and the conversations we would have hanging out on either side of the fence that separated our properties. I would come home to him sprawled out on my front lawn, his long legs strewn about haphazardly as he waited to spring traps on the gophers that plagued our yards.
I’d laugh. It was a silly sight to see; a decorated war veteran trying live trap the small and destructive rodents. Whenever he caught one, he would put it in a box and drive it about two miles away to a nature preserve to set it free. He told me once, “Since the war, I just can’t see the point in killing anything.” He drifted for a moment into a distant memory. “Tell you the truth, I even catch the spiders in my basement and carry them outside to a tree.”
He was a soft man. And certainly the best neighbor I had ever had.
But time came between us, and I moved away. I became a missionary and went to see the world – and try to change it somehow. Almost two long years I wandered wayward through the nations and continents and kingdoms.
And then I found myself home again as if nothing happened to me at all. As if it was just a wild imagination.
And on a Monday afternoon, I was on Harold’s front porch gently rapping at the screen door. It was like living in a memory. The paint was still peeling in the same places. The tree in his front yard was still dead on one side. The bushy hedge was blocking my old driveway. And as I knocked gently I realized that I couldn’t remember how I got to the other side of town. How I ended up on Harold’s stoop. I guess my car just took me where it knew I last had a home. It had been three years and four months since I moved away, and I had never expected to find myself back again.
I pulled my hand away from the door in confusion. I wasn’t sure if he’d still be there, or alive for that matter. I hesitated for a moment before turning to leave when I heard the familiar heavy stomping on his floorboards. I heard the latches click over, and then door peeked open. There he was – as tall as ever. His mouth dropped open and he was silent.
I didn’t know if he’d remember me. I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t another in a long line of neighbors that moved through the area. “I’m Stacey. I used to live next door.” I pointed stupidly in the direction of my old driveway and gave him a shrug of my shoulders.
“I know who you are.” His voice was as gravelly as ever. Gruff and even pitched. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose. “But I can’t figure out why you’re on my front porch. I never thought I’d see you again.” He cracked a huge smile.
He quickly invited me inside. His wife, Edith was sleeping in the living room, so we snuck through the house and down the staircase into the basement. Hanging from the rafters and walls was every type of tool you could imagine. There were motorcycle parts and chopped up and mangled bikes from when he raced them in the thirties. Directing me over to one corner of the room, he gave me the good lazy boy, and lowered himself down into a white plastic lawn chair.
His eyes were wide, like he was trying to wake from a daydream.
It took ten minutes for the conversation to feel natural again. And soon we began talking about World War Two. He was a submariner. “Can you imagine?” He asked delightedly. “As big as I am on a submarine. I hit my head so many times I nearly had a constant headache.” We talked about lawn mowers and guns and his daughters. Then in the middle of a sentence his voice trailed off to a whisper.
“I don’t know, God. I just don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this.” He shook his head and looked down at the floor.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
Picking his gaze up from the concrete, he pierced right into my heart with all the sincerity of Christ and replied, “I don’t know what good thing I’ve done in my life to deserve a friend like you.” And then Harold cried. Right there in front of me in the basement. Among the cobwebs and stories and auto parts. This pillar of a man – who had always been so steady and somber – cried.
“I think that’s just who you are Harold. To be honest- God just made you good.”
An hour of more talking passed, and then he walked me back to my car. He stood in his driveway long enough that I could see him in the rear view mirror, slowly disappearing over the hill. I stretched my neck up until the very top of the tuft of his hair was gone.
Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a lot of things. He compares it to things that have to be grown, tended, filtered and harvested. He shows us it is like these things. But I know that Harold is as close as I will get to the Kingdom. He is closer than fields and fishing and farming. Because in Luke 17:21 Jesus tells us that the Kingdom is within us. The Kingdom is within Harold. It is in his humble mannerisms and peaceful words. It is in his stories and very breath. The Kingdom of God is in Harold’s tears.
And living next door to you right at this moment is the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s standing behind you in a grocery store line. You may get into a car wreck with the Kingdom. You may pass it in a restaurant or work with it. But truth is, the Kingdom is all around you. And it has something to teach you.
The truly difficult test of faith and character is not how much you love God. It’s how much you love each other. Will you treat your coworker or mother or ex-husband like the Kingdom? I hope you will. Because that’s what they are.
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