In Matthew’s gospel Jesus teaches a series of brief parables that include some variation of the phrase, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed seed.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of yeast.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed.
Like a treasure of great value.
Like a fine pearl.
Like a netful of fish.
Throughout these parables, Jesus is attempting to relate the in-breaking Kingdom to his disciples’ experiences. Because the kingdom is not something you can really describe or explain.
It’s something you have to experience.
After visiting Ivanovo, Russia, last spring with a team from Orphan’s Tree, I have a new take on Jesus’ kingdom parables. And it starts something like this:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like Antonina’s kitchen.”
Every day during our team’s visit to the Ivanovo ministry center , the first thing we would do when we walked in the door was head straight to Antonina’s kitchen.
Not because there was work to be done there (although there usually was).
Not because we were looking for a quick snack (although we usually found one).
Not even because we couldn’t wait to see Antonina (although we couldn’t!).
We headed straight to the kitchen because the kitchen invited us there.
Sure, the heady aroma of garlic and dill and Russian deliciousness sent excited nerve impulses from our olfactory nodes to our brains, sparking ancient impulses to feed and be satisfied.
Yes, our inquisitiveness for what culinary delights might await us that day piqued our curiosity.
But there was something more. Much more.
Something undetected by the senses.
I think I realized this “something more” when I began to notice that it wasn’t just our team that made a beeline to the kitchen the first priority of the day. It was everyone who set foot in the building.
The students, the staff, the young moms, their kiddos, visitors of all kinds. First stop: Antonina’s kitchen.
It’s taken me awhile, but I think Jesus’ Kingdom parables explain it.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like Antonina’s kitchen.
The kitchen invites you in.
It wasn’t just the immediate compelling presence of the delightful aromas, the promise of a tasty bite, the anticipation of what Antonina was preparing for lunch or dinner, or even her beautiful smile, infectious laugh, and twinkling eyes.
It was all of that. But it was also more.
It was the memories of meals partaken. Of stories told. Of experiences shared.
Of hurts and struggles and joys and celebrations. Of pain and healing. Of hopelessness and hope. Of tears and laughter. Of work and play. Of serving and being served.
Of young and old and rich and poor and Russian and American and women and men and moms and dads and grandparents and grand babies and students and teachers and employed and unemployed and hungry and scared and scarred and wise and confused and broken and confident.
And questioning. And waiting. And wandering. And wondering.
It was the place where everyone was on equal footing. Where, if for only a moment, everything evaporated away into a time of unconditional one-ness.
You might even say it was a place of justice.
And the spirit of it all, of past and present and future and everything that fills the gaps in between, becomes the most real thing there is.
And the reality of it is utterly irresistible.
First stop: Antonina’s kitchen.
Because the kitchen — like the Kingdom — invites you in.
And you can’t wait to accept.
This article first appeared Jan. 1, 2014 on the Orphan’s Tree blog. For more on Orphan’s Tree and its work with Russian orphans, visit www.orphanstree.org.