27 Jul 2014
“‘The kingdom of heaven is like …’” In the name …
I’ve told you all a slew of times before that when I get ready to leave the house in anything except for my clericals I have to run the outfit by the women of the house. This past Sunday, for example, Sharon and I went to see a play at the Williamstown Theater Festival. I thought I picked out something that looked acceptable, but I was immediately told it was too much green, that the shades were too close to one another. I didn’t even know I was wearing green. But that’s nothing compared to the story told by Max Tegmark. He’s a physics professor at MIT. In his recent book he was telling the story of how he was traveling from Boston to Philadelphia. As a true absent-minded professor, he realized as he was about to board his flight that he wasn’t carrying his suitcase any longer. He ran back to the security checkpoint and asked hurriedly if someone had forgotten a black roll-on bag. Probably because he was so exasperated and sweating, the airport security personnel took special notice of him, especially since he was asking about a black bag that was actually teal. A nervous man who can’t even recognize his own bag? Hmmm, they thought, and off he goes for more security checks and all because he can’t distinguish shades of colour.
Then, since he’s a physics professor, he starts telling the reader about optical illusions and the difference between internal and external reality. What we think we observe doesn’t necessarily have to be what’s there. He explained that the three primary colours of red, green and blue are not the only colours in external reality that can be mixed and matched to make a whole palette of other colours. It just so happens that we have three kinds of cone cells in the retinas of our eyes which register those three primary colours. We force our internal reality on the external reality, but the external reality doesn’t really care.
I think our 12-year-old dog Wilbur is starting to lose his sight a little bit. He loves his food, but sometimes he’ll miss a piece here or there. I know it’s not because he’s full because Wilbur has never been full in his whole life. That’s why he’s named after the pig in Charlotte’s Web. But when I walk Wilbur, he is so much more aware of the smells that surround us both, smells that I have absolutely no awareness of. My internal reality doesn’t match the external reality, and Wilbur reminds me of this each time he lurches me in one direction or another so that he can check out something that he smells that I don’t.
And now back to Max Tegmark the MIT physicist. There are methods available to see and sense all sorts of things that we humans miss all the time because our senses just aren’t tuned-in to them, but there’s also 96% of our universe that is completely unknown to us. Scientists call it dark matter and dark energy and they don’t really know what it is. The whole experienced universe is only 4% of what’s really out there. On top of that, Max Tegmark believes that there are an infinite number of separate other universes besides our own that we’ll never be able to encounter. So whether it’s our flawed or limited senses, or whether its dark matter or dark energy that we don’t yet understand, or even an infinite number of other universes that we will never experience, our internal reality is only a tiny, little, small bit of the external reality.
If we can know only this little bit about the external reality, then how much could we ever hope to process of God’s spiritual reality? Tegmark gives the example of Einstein. He said that the mathematical formulas were already floating around back in the early 1900’s, but it was Einstein’s genius that saw how they fit together to become useful. Tegmark said that if some great scientist of the future could transport back into our time and write down on some college blackboard the formula to explain dark energy, he said that we may not have the capability to process that formula. We may not know how to make it useful. That’s why I think Jesus doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about heaven. We’re not able to process God’s reality. We have a hard enough time finding out how to explain this reality, never mind God’s. In other words, we can’t make heaven’s reality useful yet.
So instead of describing heaven, Jesus today teaches that whatever heaven is like, we should treat it as our greatest possible possession. My dad watches the Antique Road Show on PBS. Sometimes he’ll tell me about people who don’t realize the value of what they own. That’s kind of like Jesus’ parable today of the pearl of unrecognized value. If I go to a tag sale and I see something that I know is a secret masterpiece, I would pay whatever they’re asking to own it because I know it’s worth even more. This is the kind of example that Jesus uses to tell us in His words, “‘The kingdom of heaven is like …’” It’s not a description; it’s a motivation. Heaven is not an obvious treasure; it’s a buried one. As people of faith we need to trust in Jesus’ promise concerning this unknown and hidden reality. God knows that we can’t process what heaven is, but we need to trust Jesus’ words that it’s worth aiming for. We need to be motivated here and now in anticipation of what heaven will be.
We can barely process all that makes up external reality. So much more of it is mystery than fact. If brilliant scientists with their skepticism and logic can talk of infinite other worlds with no evidence other than a mathematical formula, then we as people of faith, even with skepticism and logic intact, can speak of our hope of heaven based on nothing more than the promise of Jesus. We don’t know what heaven is like. We can’t know what heaven is like. But we can trust Jesus. I don’t preach a lot about heaven because that’s out of our hands, but Jesus says we can get ready now so that when the time comes we can walk through those heavenly gates. Let us pray that we may lead lives now that prepare us for whatever wonders heaven holds in store for us later, in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo