Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Kingdom of God is Like . . .

Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

We continue this week in our tour through the parables of Jesus as found in Matthew. Verses 34 to 43, the bits we skipped, are partly Jesus’ explanation of the use of parables, which is from Psalm 78, and the rest is part o last weeks’ reading, Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds and wheat.

Today, we have no less than five parables thrown at us. Now, it might be wise in some years to take each parable one by one, and each Sunday talk about mustard seeds, and yeast, and treasure, and pearls, or fish.

But it seemed to me that there might be some value in looking at all five parables together, and seeing what, together, each parable tells us about the character of God through Jesus Christ.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. . . “

Yesterday, I planted that box that last week was full of weeds- or as I preferred to say last week, plants in undesirable locations. I generally planted petunias, because they’re bright and can live in full sun. but I also scattered some California Poppy seeds that had been given to my mom by a friend of hers in one of the boxes, the one facing the house, so that mom can see them when she’s sitting at the couch, looking out the window. California Poppy seeds are tiny, about like a mustard seed , and it never fails to impress me how something so small becomes so different and so much larger. And these seeds just become wildflowers. If you left a mustard shoot to grow from a seed not much bigger than those poppy seeds for a few years, the resulting bush, just as Jesus describes it, becomes a large bush or small tree, (depending on your perspective, kind of like the difference between a stream and a creek). Internet pictures of mustard bushes that I saw when looking for bulletin cover art were sometimes taller than a person, and wider than a car. All from a little tiny seed.

I believe that this parable teaches us about the abundance of God’s Kingdom.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast. . . “

In reading this parable, of course I want to know how much a Measure of flour is. There’s a similar parable to this in Luke, in which the woman works the dough until the yeast is worked all through. That seems reasonable, since you want the dough to rise evenly. But when I looked up how much a measure was, it told me it roughly was only a cup. So if you add yeast to three measures of flour, it is roughly the amount needed for a loaf of bread. Again we have a symbol of something very small affecting a much larger body around it, similar to the mustard seed, so it could be abundance, but I hear another attribute of the Kingdom of God, here-power. Something as small as a wee beastie like yeast, who are kind of animals, after all, can take three cups of flour and some water and transform it from a paste into a large loaf of bread, given enough time.

I believe that this parable teaches is that the Kingdom of God has the power to transform and the power to change, and the power to make that which seems useless into something useful.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure . . . “

This is sometimes hard to understand this one, because the story of the love of God, Christ’s choosing to die for us, is a story that needs to be told in as many ways as our creativity permits. Why would you go hide it? And then why would you go and doubly own it; not just being the person who knows where it’s hidden, but being the guy who owns the land where it is hidden? That doesn’t sound like sharing to me. But I don’t think keeping it secret is Jesus’ point, here. I think he is trying to communicate that the feeling that a person has about something valuable, that they want to keep it safe, how highly they value that object, is how highly we should value the Kingdom. Take care with it. Tell the story accurately, with all the love and respect you can muster. Don’t fall prey to easy explanations, don’t just parrot what you’ve been taught, retelling the story without your own connection to it.

I believe that this parable teaches us to take care with the great value of the story of the Kingdom.

“The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant . . . “ Not like a pearl. Like a merchant. The Kingdom of god is an active place, a place that is willing to sell all it has to claim one great pearl. And that attitude, the valuing of something above all else, is how I think the Kingdom sees us. We are that one great pearl, and the Kingdom of God is willing to expend all it has to make sure we are included.

I believe this parable teaches us that the Kingdom of God Values us far more than we can understand and believe.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net. . . “

Jesus tells a parable about the end of the world here, and how there will be a process of separating the good from the bad. I don’t really hear this as a prophecy of the end times, in anyway that we hear it in Cultural Christianity today. The Psalms are full of separations, separating the people of God from their enemies, individually and collectively as the nation of Israel. For a people who are oppressed, the language of good and evil is clear—we will be redeemed, by God’s hand. They will be punished for doing this to us, by God’s hand. It is not so clear to us, in a first world country, the most powerful nation on earth, how we can think we are oppressed, because in the main, we are not. There are individual oppressions; women abused by husbands, children abused by their parents-there are economic oppressions, when people must work under duress and for less than a fair wage; but as a whole, we are not oppressed. We are not occupied by a foreign power, we are not being invaded, most outrage that we see these days is based not in justice, but in selfishness. To the people listening to Jesus, it is clear that the bad fish that they are caught up in the net with are Romans and the people who have cast their lot with them. There is nothing here about the saved and the unsaved.

I believe that this parable teaches us that the Kingdom of God is for the people who act justly, with compassion and humility, and sensitivity to situations in the world.

So, the Kingdom of God is described 5 ways here; abundant like a mustard seed; powerful like yeast; valuable to us like a treasure; places great value on us like a pearl merchant with a pearl, and discerning with who it includes.

There is much to think about here. And perhaps a lot to decide about how we fit into that Kingdom.

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