Previews of the Kingdom

When we were children, we would drive from the east coast to south Texas just about every summer. The trip would take about four days and my father would carefully plan the trip one day at a time, one event at a time so as to prepare us for our visit with our families and friends.

This was obviously before google maps, so my dad would order a travel guide from triple A. This travel guide became the Rosetta stone for our adventure, everything was contained in this guide if you knew what to look for. The first thing was to plan the hotels. All of the Holiday Inn’s all had to have swimming pools and they had to offer folding cots. My dad knew what he was doing, when we got to our uncle’s house the local swimming pool was about a block away and we were going to be sharing bedrooms with our cousins. So both of these opening parameters we previews of our eventual destination.

To heighten our anticipation he would make some of these previews into a game, we would rotate who got to sleep in the folding bed so that by the time we got to south Texas it was a treat to have “our own folding cot for the Whole Week”.

There were other things that he would do as well. Every chance that we got we would have a picnic along the side of the road. At rest stops, road side parks or just gas stations picnic’s were a huge treat. In all those years I don’t think that I can remember us going into a restaurant more than once or twice in a trip. Again, this was because we had so many cousins that on one house could hold all of us at a dinner table so picnic tables were a must.

And, finally, the best part was that we would never watch TV. You see my father was a great story teller. I received some of those skills but nothing like my dad and on the road, and once we got to Texas, he would tell us stories late into the night until we all fell asleep.

As a child, these trips to my uncles houses were the closest thing that we could imagine to as being heaven. Time spent with all of the people that we loved, staying up late, being outside, having picnics, listening to the families telling stories and having my own folding cot for a whole week.

What took me a while to realize was that my dad had carefully planned previews of these great vacations along the way. Every roadside lunch was a preview of our whole family picnics. Every Holiday Inn pool was a preview of swim lessons a block from my uncle’s house. And the anticipation of who got the cot tonight was the preview of the time when it was “mine all mine”.

It has also taken me a wile to appreciate that our heavenly father is doing the same thing to us while we are on this earth. The times that I can remember my mother holding me close, the times that I remember laughing with friends, the day that I got married and the day that I looked into the eyes of my children for the first time. These were all roadside picnics along my way to the Kingdom of God.

In today’s incredibly short gospel Jesus muses on what the Kingdom of God is like. This came right after yesterday’s story of Jesus curing the crippled woman in the synagogue on the sabbath day. So he was there teaching and he just says “what is the Kingdom of Heaven like?” You can appreciate that at this point everyone was listening. The two examples that he gives have three things in common, first they initially appear small and insignificant. Yeast looks like a pile for crumbs and the mustard seed is among the smallest of seeds. Second is that they both multiply, one into one of the largest trees and the other causes the flour to double or triple in size. And finally, they provide for others. The tree becomes a place for, as the gospel says, “the birds of the sky to dwell in its branches”, and the yeast leavens the dough to make the bread to feed us.

It seems as though Jesus has chosen two examples of “unassuming greatness”. Where something so small can grow to something so big. Like my father’s roadside picnics growing into the joy at sitting outside sharing stories with my family.

As we go through our life we are provided with and given the opportunity to provide previews of the Kingdom of God. A smile, an act of kindness, the extent of a hand.

In the first reading Paul tells us to have hope, “for in hope we were saved.” He recognizes that “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” What better a time than to go out and lay the groundwork for some previews of “unassuming greatness”. What better a time for some roadside picnics? What better a time than “to share in the glorious freedom of [being] the children of God.”

Lk 13: 18-21

Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like?
To what can I compare it?
It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush
and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.”

Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?
It is like yeast that a woman took
and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”

October 26, 2021

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