Recently I heard a story about a whale. Researchers in the ‘80s had been working with sonar in the Pacific Ocean to try and identify submarine activity. They would often hear whales calling out to one another. Whales travel in pods and help locate one another even when they are miles apart by emitting underwater moaning noises. This helps the whales in the pod not only find one another but helps keep the pod together. At some point, the researchers noticed a higher frequency whale call—it seemed to be all alone and the more the whale called, the more researchers began to believe that indeed the whale was all alone and, in fact, was miles away from the whale migration route. They weren’t sure if the whale had become lost because the noise he was making was too high pitched or if he was simply too far from the other whales for anyone to hear him, but no whale ever returned his call.
People began to speculate about the whale—not scientifically but from a more romantic frame of mind. They became upset that the whale was all alone, desperately calling out for some of his kin in a desire to be with others. This sense of loneliness and desperation attributed to the whale led to poems and songs and even a children’s book in Germany. The whale had taken hold of the hearts of people world wide as they resonated with the deep sense of loneliness that the whale seemed to emanate.
Of course, no one ever knew why the whale was all alone or even what happened to him. Over time, he faded into the background noise of lives that were already too distracted by the problems and cares of the world. And though the whale is interesting, it is the response—and more specifically the projection of feelings that people put on to the whale that grabs my attention. Are we so lonely in this world that the thought of a lost whale can tear at our heart strings? If so, and the whale incident happened back in the 80’s and 90’s, how much lonelier might we all be feeling now in the midst of the pandemic?
Its tough to be alone. We aren’t made for that kind of a life. When the divine created us, he discovered pretty quickly that Adam needed a partner and a companion, so he made Eve. We were created in relationship; we believe in a God of relationship—three in one and one in three. Our faith is grounded in this trinitarian relationship of God and how we fit into that. To be alone is difficult not because we are weak but because it is counter to the very nature that God made.
As I listen to the parables that Jesus tells today, I am reminded of this need for companionship that was fundamental in our creation. God did not create us to divide us against ourselves or to be divided from him. We weren’t created to be some sort of twisted entertainment version of the Hunger Games for the Trinity to take bets on. God didn’t create us to compete with one another, he created us to love one another. And nothing will ever separate us from the love of God.
I don’t believe Jesus is in the business of sending some of us to Hell and others of us to Heaven. In the book of Revelation, John describes one of his last visions of Jesus standing in the middle of the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem where the pearly gates can never be shut, and eternally calling out “Come” to all people. “Come to me all you that are weary.” Jesus will spend eternity drawing us to him, not dividing us by judging us over and against one another—some as bad, some as good; some as righteous, some as evil. Instead the divine created us to be in relationship with God and one another so to read these parables as apocalyptic and judgmental is a difficult reading and doesn’t ring true to what I know about Jesus.
Over and over again Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven in these parables. In that description he consistently says that the kingdom of heaven is like something within that when added together produces something even greater. These parables are about something within, something internal that can produce external results. It is a mustard seed within the ground, yeast within flour, treasure within a field, great value within a pearl, a net within the sea. Each of those things is simply an illustration of the message Jesus is trying to tell us—the kingdom of heaven is within us. So if the kingdom of heaven is within us and God is always drawing us into relationship with God’s self and one another, then maybe this whole separation of good and bad fish and the evil and the righteous is not about pitting people against each other but the purification of our own soul.
Instead of reading these parables as a judgment, might we read them as an invitation: An invitation into eternal life that will be predicated on how well we have embraced kingdom living in this earthly realm. How much easier will it be to accept the invitation to eternal life for those who have lived a righteous one in this world—one in which they have offered comfort to others as branches of a tree offering nesting spots to the birds of the air? Or worked in a quiet and productive ways like leaven in dough? Or committed everything they have to a life grounded in God like someone who will sell all that he has to buy a field with treasure or the most valuable pearl in the world? Or lived a spiritually disciplined life and sorted through those habits or beliefs that were good and those that were bad, casting away those that drew one away from God and keeping only those things that nourished a life in Christ like a fisherman sorting through his catch? When the angels separate the evil from the righteous, I don’t think Jesus means people. I think he means that which is intrinsic in each of us as an individual.
Of course there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in that moment. As Paul says, we do what we do not want to do. In our humanness, we cling to our brokenness like Linus with his little blue blanket. It is always a difficult thing to let go of our self-reliance even when we so desperately know and need to rely on others especially God. Our pride and ignorance are more than stumbling blocks along the path of life, not to mention our desire for control. If those things get in the way of our relationship with God and one another now, why would it be any easier at our day of reckoning?
The Good News is that unlike that whale swimming alone through the vast oceans of the world, we are never alone—God is always drawing us to God’s self. God created us as his children and he will never separate us from himself—not in this world and not in the next. God knows that though these things have been made fully known to us, we can never fully understand them and He does not hold that against us.
The kingdom of heaven is within each of us, even while we are here on earth. It bursts forth from us like flowers in the spring and wanes in the winter of our souls—but it is always there. The more we can embrace our call to kingdom living the easier our own day of reckoning will be. We are all redeemable—from the smallest mustard seed to the greatest catch of fish because the kingdom of God is within us. If we, broken and lonely people that we are, can be so concerned about a whale, how much more concerned do you think God is about us? Amen.
Pentecost 8A: Psalm 105:1-11; Genesis 29:15-28; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Church of the Ascension – Episcopal, Montgomery, Alabama
Sunday, July 26, 2020
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer