The Kingdom of Heaven and the Qualities of Grace

After last week’s class was over, I was left feeling very uncomfortable, as if something bad had happened. First of all, I didn’t have any intention to politicize my message. It is applicable to everyone regardless of politics or religion. Second of all, and more importantly, this issue of judgment is just so annoying. It always leaves you with a bitter taste, it haunts you and yet the answers it provides never satisfy. 

We are quite fascinated with the concepts of judgment and fairness. Practically most, if not all, of the philosophers had something to say about it.  From Aristotle to Hume, Immanuel Kant and his moral imperative, and more recently, John Rawls and his concept of ”Justice as fairness”, there is no shortage of knowledge on justice, fairness, and how to judge.

But it is not just the philosophers that find this topic amusing, we all do. There is a plethora of shows on these topics, shows such as Judge Judy. In fact, Wikipedia has an alphabetical list of them (, which even includes a show called “Kids Court”.

It’s not just TV shows about the topic that catch our attention, some of the actual trials were defining moments of a decade. Think of the trial of O.J. Simpson, or the current one of Sam Bankman-Fried who defrauded his customers out of billions of dollars. 

Religion is also about judgment. (By religion I mean religious institutions and people, not God.) But unlike philosophies about judgment or court drama, the judgment in religion is eternal. It doesn’t just concern your mortal body; it dabbles in the fate of your soul. That’s why, on the one hand, religious judgment is far more engaging to discuss, and on the other hand, is far more damming and destructive to administer.  But that doesn’t stop us, or our priests and pastors, to administer it left and right; after all, they are the guardians of our religions. 

But why do we judge and why is it so easy to judge? I think this is a psychological question because the reason behind why we judge is unconscious. Please allow me to make it conscious for you: We judge because we feel judged and by judging someone else, we try to take the blame and guilt off of our shoulders and lay it on someone else’s. Once this becomes conscious, you may realize that there are problems.

The first problem with this is that it isn’t fair; transferring guilt from you to someone weaker is not fair. But, the more insidious problem is that judgment does not efface our guilt. The guilt is still there, hiding behind our judgment of the other person. And so this topic of judgment is heavy, contentious, never ending, and can leave you feeling suffocated. 

Dr. Weaver mentioned that discussing judgment has to involve a discussion about Grace along with it. So, I thought about what Jesus taught on the topic. It turns out that Jesus never said the word “Grace”. Which begs the question: has Jesus ever taught about Grace? He certainly had a lot of teachings regarding the kingdom of heaven. In the book of Matthew, the kingdom of heaven is mentioned thirty-two times (more, if you include the “kingdom of God” as well).

Jesus used the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” in every category of his teachings: In the parables:

Matthew 13:44-46: The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy he went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went away and sold all he had and bought it.

In the beatitudes:

Matthew 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

During the sermon on the mount:

Matthew 7:21: Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

And even as a response to the disciples’ questions:

Matthew 18:3: Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 

I have never been able to piece together all the teachings of Jesus on the kingdom of heaven in order to be able to arrive at a cohesive picture of this heaven. His teachings don’t allow it. Sometimes it is a place: For example:

Matthew 8:11: And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes it is a dead thing—a treasure or a pearl or a net. Sometimes it’s a living thing—yeast or a mustard seed. Sometimes it is a state to be blessed, such as being poor in spirit or persecuted for righteousness.

Whenever I asked a religious authority for their explanation of it, I received a shallow and incoherent explanation for something they evidently didn’t understand. No one was brave enough to say that they don’t really know what it means. I think that this comes at a disservice. Do we really know what Jesus was talking about most of the time, or are we fooling ourselves just to not admit that we have no clue while giving incomplete or misleading explanations?

For today’s discussion, I would like to offer the explanation that the KOH is grace and Jesus’s descriptions of it are the various aspects or qualities of Grace. To begin with, Grace is strange, it is a foreign concept to us. And so, it makes sense that Jesus’s description of the KOH is strange; it doesn’t fit into one category or permit one analysis. But it does seem that what we learned about Grace from Dr. Weaver fits pretty well with Jesus’s descriptions of the KOH. 

I’m going to read some statements, teachings, and parables where Jesus mentions the kingdom of heaven. I will be replacing the phrase “the KOH” with Grace. Listen to them and let me know if this helps you understand more about the parables or Grace or whether it does not?

Matthew 4:17: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for Grace is at hand.”  

Matthew 18:1-5: At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in Grace? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into Grace. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in Grace. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

John 3:1-3: Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see Grace unless they are born again.”

Matthew 13:31-33: “He told them another parable: ‘Grace is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’. He told them still another parable: ‘Grace is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”

Matthew 13:44-46: “Grace is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, Grace is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Mathew 13:10-12: “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘Because the knowledge of the secrets of Grace has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.’”

Matthew 13:18-23: “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about Grace and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word about Grace and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Matthew 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is Grace. 

Matthew 5:10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is Grace.

So, what do you think? For me, I think this way gives much more cohesion to our understanding of Jesus’s teachings. It also offers some interesting insights into this topic. Let me give a few highlights: 

    • The first is that Grace is not a place or a location, as the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” may mislead us to think. 

    • Second, I think the parables on Grace being a hidden treasure or the finest pearl speak of the preciousness of it, it is very expensive. 

    • Third, notice how the man digging in a field found it by accident, while the pearl merchant was looking for pearls, although there is still an element of luck that he found the finest pearl of his lifetime. 

    • Perhaps this tells us that it is much more likely that Grace will find us than for us to find Grace. Both the person who found the treasure and the pearl merchant had to sell everything in order to get the Grace, which for one thing makes the pearl merchant a terrible businessman. These parables along with Jesus’s discussion with the rich young ruler may suggest that it is material possession that is required to be given up or sold off. But I doubt that.

    • Which brings me to the fourth point, that to see Grace requires a childlike attitude, which happens by being born again. If we combine a child-like attitude with being born again with the man finding a treasure or the merchant finding the pearl and giving everything up for it, it seems that what Grace costs us is not money, but a rewiring of our understanding of the world, God, and religion or perhaps lack thereof: Giving up false narratives about God and people. And Giving up our imaginary free will. The man who finds grace while randomly digging in a field gives up all of these with Joy, a very important element of Grace. 

But there’s more. Like a seed or yeast, grace is alive and infectious, so, a small amount of grace as small as a seed or a microorganism, can grow into large quantities very quickly without our interference or work. It is a miracle.

But how does grace fit with judgment? Again, I think we disregard Jesus’s teachings on the topic. Jesus is clear: If you called or thought of your brother as an idiot you deserve the same level of judgment as the Mosaic law requires of someone who committed murder. If you lust after someone, it is as if you committed adultery with them. If that’s the case, then it is very easy to be a murderer or a prostitute (I’m using this term for both genders). Apparently this is great news because: “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God or Grace ahead of you.”

We are all under enormous amount of judgment and guilt. This judgment is self-inflicted, socially suggested, and actively put upon us by other people. To repeat, the source of this Judgment is not from God, but from men. This judgment is crushing. It is like a yoke put upon the neck of an ox to bind him and make it subservient. It is heavy and tiring, it crushes the soul and makes it sterile. But Jesus offers to liberate us with a different kind of Yoke: the Yoke of Grace: 

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus is an excellent psychologist. He knows the heart of humans, which is filled with guilt and shame. He knows how our minds work on judgment; we request a law from God so we can administer the judgment ourselves. But Jesus’s answer is different: Whoever among you is without a sin, let them be the first to cast a stone. Instead of our faulty judgment, which only serves to kill the body and the soul, Jesus gives us his Grace, a living miracle, which provides us with new vision, joy, and peace. 

So, what do you think of this idea of replacing the phrase “the KOH” with Grace? Do you think it can provide additional insights and more cohesive understanding of Jesus’s teachings? Do you think that we project our method of judgment onto God? How does Grace fit into judgment? Jesus says that Grace is right here and now. Can you see Grace? Is it hard or easy? How can we open our eyes to see more of it? 

Anonymous: I love the idea of replacing the “Kingdom of God” with “grace.” It makes more sense. It sheds light on Jesus’ teachings.

Michael: I couldn’t find “grace” in Jesus’s teachings until I tried to see if this kingdom of heaven might have something to do with grace. And yes, it makes much more sense to me as well—the teachings now make more sense when viewed through this lens.

Anonymous: I’m sure we’re only seeing just a drop of grace. There’s so much more. As the parable suggests, we stumbled upon grace unexpectedly. I’m speaking about myself.

Don: I think Michael has taken a very important step toward understanding more about the teachings of Jesus as well as about grace itself. When you include grace in the equation, judgment becomes unimportant and mundane because grace negates the result of judgment. Grace is about not getting what you deserve, whereas judgment is about getting what you deserve.

David: I think Michael really has nailed it this morning. That’s why it’s difficult to add anything to what he said; only to echo him. We all agree that grace is beyond understanding. That is what distinguishes it from judgment. We understand judgment because it’s a human construct, not a divine one. Grace, however, is divine, and therefore beyond our full comprehension. Even so, we know we can rely on it because there is no intermediary between us and grace—between us and God. Each of us has our own direct relationship with God. There’s no intermediary dictating what we must do to receive it. They couldn’t understand that relationship—only you—the individual—can, based upon the inward reflection, the prayer in solitude, that Jesus talked about. We just haven’t listened carefully enough to what Jesus said.

Reinhard: I still have some reservations about dismissing judgment because of grace. During the time of Jesus, he faced two groups: the Jews who sought salvation through adherence to the law, and those who, as Paul elaborates in his writings, sought justification by faith. The law-keepers sought to outcast those who broke the law—people with diseases, those who committed adultery, and tax collectors—yet Jesus embraced them. We know the story: the king came to rescue these outcasts. 

But there’s still a principle. When Jesus embraced these outcasts, there was still an expectation, as when he told the woman, “Go and sin no more.” There is still a requirement, as Paul states in Corinthians, “Stop sinning.” In 1 Corinthians, it says that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God—neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. So, there are still requirements. Grace fills in where we fall short, and while our violations may not be as severe, the principle of accepting God remains. 

Yes, God saves outcasts, but there’s still a place for judgment; otherwise, grace would be everything. Jesus’s teachings during his life aimed to correct societal wrongs of his time, culminating in his sacrifice—his death on the cross—which signifies the completion of this redemptive work, the atonement for all sinners to return to God. While judgment may seem diminished in terms of salvation because of grace, there is still a place for judgment. In the end, divine judgment will determine who will be saved.

David: I would have to agree with Reinhard insofar as that is what the Bible appears to say and mean, but when Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more,” he didn’t add “…Or else!” 

Supposing she did go and sin again and found herself in the same square a week later, facing the same mob ready to stone her. Would Jesus endorse that? “I told her last week ‘No more!’  but she did it anyway; so go ahead, throw those stones!” Can you imagine Jesus doing that? I can’t.

Don: I think this relates to the same teaching of Jesus that Michael referred to last week—those confounding, incomprehensible statements and commandments designed to provoke cognitive dissonance. Of course, she can’t go and be sinless; that’s not within her means. It’s as illogical as saying you should cut off your hand if it causes you to sin, or any number of puzzling statements from Jesus. It raises cognitive dissonance but can’t be taken literally, because commanding her to become sinless without any conditions isn’t logical, considering that sin is a part of human nature.

Donald: Grace seems to be a God thing. I’m not sure it’s a human thing. Can grace be something that I can grant someone else? I can forgive someone else, but is that the same? We say “forgive and forget,” but while we can forgive, we often can’t forget. 

However, we tend to think of divine grace as wiping the slate clean. At least, that’s what we’ve been told—that our sins are wiped away like snow. But then there’s this image, presented or sold to us early in our childhood, of God at heaven’s gate with a book of laws. Your name comes up, and you’re trembling. Why should you tremble if you believe that grace will be given to you as long as you accept Christ as your Savior? There are so many things that, to me, don’t seem to balance out. I’m sorry.

C-J: During Michael’s introduction, I contemplated the idea that our lack of understanding stems from a lack of maturity. We often see things in a binary way, right or wrong, and struggle when things don’t quite fit. The word ‘grace’ suggests a place, an idea, or a state of being, with many aspects to how it manifests. Whenever I witness grace in action, I realize that being present in that moment is a blessing for me as well. There’s always a lesson in it. 

Something I strive for, though it’s not easy, is to practice diplomacy and grace. I must acknowledge that life is corrupting; it’s a bumpy road but it also informs. Grace is unconditional, without boundaries, and it’s always there if we surrender to it. To me, the diplomacy that precedes grace is about trusting that God is in control, and that in itself is a state of grace. If I let go, if I remove my hand from the situation and let God teach me the lesson, then grace is able to abound. I don’t believe it’s so much that God punishes us, but that we become corrupted. Yet, God’s grace can transform us in a moment. 

The beauty of a child is their openness; they don’t question the trusted voices. The message of grace threaded throughout Scripture is trust. It’s like the mustard seed—it grows as our trust in God deepens. The more we trust, the easier it becomes. We may not like it, we may be uncomfortable, we may not understand it due to our lack of maturity and experience, but it’s in letting go that grace truly abounds. 

I appreciate Michael’s gentle spirit that is so receptive to God. I often intellectualize why society is a mess because of my age, and yet he maintains a youthful optimism, acknowledging the terrible things but still trusting that God will intervene.

Anonymous: Responding to the point that when Jesus told the adulteress to “go and sin no more,” there was no guarantee she would stop sinning altogether. The key is the grace that enabled her not to sin anymore. Without grace, she would revert to her nature. But with God’s grace, she was empowered to cease sinning. And as it was once said, God’s grace is like sunshine: If you don’t close your blinds, it will reach you. Don’t hold your breath; breathe it in. It’s available. 

God’s grace enables us to do all that He has taught, asked, commanded, and advised us to do. It comes effortlessly—if we do not resist, grace will find us. As the Bible says, faith comes by grace, not from ourselves. It invites us to experience the rest He provides, His peace, His strength. He guarantees us eternal life through His sacrifice on the Cross. We have nothing to worry about, nothing to labor for. 

And this brings me back to the fourth commandment—to remember the Sabbath, to rest in the grace from God that cares for us. Don’t worry. It’s a beautiful picture, all with grace.

Donald: I’m still confused. I accept the concept of God and His ability to grant grace, but what’s my responsibility? Do I have one? Or is it that once I accept God or Christ, I no longer have any responsibility? To “turn the other cheek” suggests to me that I do have a responsibility.

C-J: Every relationship comes with responsibilities. I’d like to consider the word “nature.” When we were metaphorically in the garden, our nature was uncorrupted. We walked with God, without shame, and had understanding and a loving relationship. Grace was inherent in this law. We became corrupted when we failed to accept that relationship and the clarity it offered. Now, we see “through a glass, darkly,” but then, all things will be revealed. 

Staying in a right relationship with humanity and God improves our condition; the more we dabble in other things, the more we corrupt ourselves. Yet, I believe, because we exist in this dimension, we also need guidance—”Don’t go over there, you’ll get hurt.” Without the Holy Spirit, true guidance is rare unless we have exceptional parents, and that’s only in the temporal, not the spiritual realm. 

Without grace, considering all that has been said about it and our own personal walk, I don’t think Jesus was binary. He was the light that dispels darkness. Our finite minds can’t fully grasp the infinite nature of grace, how it will manifest, who will enter our lives, whether we’ll have a kinder life or live in a war zone. 

Carolyn: The thing I keep returning to is the cross and the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus. I reflect on the response of one thief and Jesus’s response to him. This was in their last moments; therefore, I believe there was a dimension of consciousness at work there. 

There is something about the finality of Jesus’s promise: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It was grace, immediately accessible to the man who believed and accepted it.

Don: Donald, have you considered that “The Book,” this metaphorical ledger of our deeds, is actually a document affirming grace? That it’s a record of all the things that have been forgiven? That what you’re seeking is some verification, a document that substantiates that grace is real and that it has cleansed the sins? What does it mean in John 3:17, the verse following one of the most famous in the Bible, where it states God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him? This presents a contrast between judgment and grace. 

According to this statement by Jesus, He is focused on grace, not judgment. To me, that’s a remarkable and striking notion. It is neither complete nor incomprehensible. But that’s why there’s a record of everything that helps convince us of the existence of grace, because otherwise, we might think we arrived here due to our good deeds.

Donald: Exactly. So, in my attempt to understand, my simple mind tries to relate it to something tangible. For instance, when you go into a room with a patient, the first thing you do is look at their chart, which may now be on a computer. It’s a record of the person’s health history as perceived through tests and observations. Yet, sometimes, you find the person in excellent health, defying what the record would suggest. That’s a miracle. You can’t reconcile the record with the person’s current health. On the other hand, if the patient is indeed as sick as the record indicates, it matches. Then, a miracle, something beyond our understanding, is needed for healing, for us to be well. 

When I think about ‘the book,’ I would hope that it has a record of our deeds. But as the pages turn, I wish they would become clearer. What’s the point in dwelling on the past? Unfortunately, I feel the church and its doctrines struggle with this. They emphasize law more than grace. It’s simpler to enforce law—it keeps people in line. And we, sitting in the pews, keep asking about grace. But the response is often, ‘No, focus on the law. That’s what defines us.’ So, that’s the part I’m wrestling with.

David: The difference between the divine and the mundane, the human, is evident here. ‘The Book’ in the human justice system is your criminal record. The larger it is, the harsher your punishment will tend to be when you face the judge, and the less grace you’re likely to receive. But in the divine realm, the opposite is true. The larger and more terrible your ‘Book,’ your record, the greater the grace you’re extended in the end. That’s why ‘bad people’ come first in the kingdom of heaven (or, as Michael put it, first in grace) they need it most. 

Jesus told us to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s,” meaning that mundane judgments in life belong to earthly authorities. For example, if it’s against the law to commit adultery, and you’re caught and sentenced to death by stoning, that’s a human matter. Jesus doesn’t condone sin, but we have to ask: is it a sin to stone someone to death? I believe the answer is clear, and Jesus didn’t need to say it outright. We all know the Truth with a capital ‘T,’ and it’s known by looking within, not by reading a statute. We must stop confusing what belongs to Caesar with what belongs to God. When Jesus told the woman to sin no more, was he specifically referring to her adultery? 

Reinhard: I think, and I agree, that as we approach the end, our lives should become purer. Carolyn spoke about the criminal beside Jesus on the cross. Of course, God knew his life was short, and in his final moments, he accepted Jesus. This is the attitude we should have. 

Returning to the woman and Zacchaeus: History, as most scholars maintain, suggests the woman caught in adultery was Mary Magdalene. She is believed to be the sister of Martha and Lazarus and also the one who anointed Jesus with oil. We recognize Mary Magdalene’s significant role during Jesus’ time and after His resurrection. 

Jesus, speaking of Zacchaeus, affirmed that salvation had come to his house that day because Zacchaeus promised to give half his wealth to the poor and to repay those he had cheated. Of the ten lepers Jesus healed, only one returned to give thanks. It’s about the attitude of accepting Jesus wholeheartedly and embodying God’s law in one’s heart, intending to live in harmony with God’s requirements. 

As we age, our lives should increasingly reflect what Jesus wants. Paul said that for those in Christ, there is no more judgment concerning salvation. Living in accord with God’s law becomes more effortless, and we bear no additional burden, which aligns with what the Bible teaches.

Michael: I was contemplating how one might switch between human vision and ‘Grace vision,’ so to speak. I remember Carolyn mentioning moments when she feels in control, like everything happens because she planned it. But then there are times we feel overwhelmed, when our usual confidence is suspended, and we must acknowledge that things are in God’s hands. That acceptance might be how we toggle between our free will and God’s Will. This switching can occur frequently, perhaps contributing to the confusion. 

It seems as if you receive grace when you admit your powerlessness against sin. But it’s not necessarily about sin—it’s about our humanity fluctuating. When we’re strong, our human side dominates. Yet, when we’re weak, sick, and bedridden, we recognize our inability to do anything without God’s help, and we may find ourselves more receptive to His grace.

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