Message: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Earlier this week, a radio commentator announced that he was going to air his show in the morning and again at night because, he said, “we have a lot to talk about lately.” He’s right. We do have a lot to talk about. With tension among White House top advisers, Russia’s response to United States sanctions, the transgender ban reversal and the skinny healthcare repeal in the Senate this past week, it’s fair to say there is a lot to talk about. Sometimes we may feel that every time we turn around, there’s another story coming at us that causes us to stop and think, what’s happening? What are we supposed to do?
Having a lot to talk about in the world is not actually news. Jesus had a lot to talk about too. In today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is spitting out one story after another. He’s talking to his disciples, his inner sanctum and Jesus is wondering if they‘re really listening.
So, he launches a series of stories, all about God’s kingdom. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that grows tree size. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast working its way through dough. The kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure unearthed. The kingdom of heaven is like a fine pearl singled out. The kingdom of heaven is like a net cast that gathers all kinds of fish. Stories of mighty growth from small beginnings.
Jesus spits out these stories with an urgency, a hurriedness. He doesn’t wait for questions and answers. He doesn’t explain the stories as he’s done previously with his parabolic teaching. Instead he flashes five images of the Kingdom of God as if he doesn’t really want us to spend too much time thinking about them. Rather, may we simply get to work revealing the Kingdom of God.
What do mustard seeds, yeast, treasure, pearls and a net all have in common? Their small, seemingly insignificance features a hiddenness that once revealed, evokes a big, bold, triumphant hope that God’s world is being made known.
Jesus tells his disciples of a tiny mustard seed, hidden in the deep earth. Things small, in Jesus’ time as today, are of little consequence and often seen as a spot, or even a blemish. Just earlier in Jesus’ commissioning of his disciples he sets before them the task of announcing the kingdom of heaven is here. This is no tiny task. They will be sent out among the wolves, handed over to councils and beaten, hauled in front of the authorities because of their testimony to following Jesus. They will be harassed and ridiculed because of their assignment. Don’t worry about what to say or what to do, God will give us the tools to speak and to serve; as long as we’re about the kingdom.
These faithful twelve may start as tiny seeds. But, their good work sprouts Christianity and the Church, which hundreds of years later is still spreading its branches. At the same time, Jesus’ message of the mustard seed is even more hidden.
Digging deeper we learn the gospel writer is imagining a burlesque shrub littered with broken branches. Mustard seeds in Jesus’ time grow unpopularly, like a weed, and is often banned from established gardens. And, as much as we would like, mustard seeds don’t grow into trees so abundant for birds to rest on its branches. What’s hidden in this parable?
The kingdom, it seems, blossoms from the love of God in Christ broken for us upon the cross as a seed planted, growing despised and rejected, only to bloom with the invitation for others who are small, broken and rejected to also grow in hope and love regardless of our size.
Next, a woman hides yeast in a bushel of flour. Why is the woman hiding the one thing that brings the flour to its full potential? Does she hid the yeast because the yeast is corrupt, spoiled, tainted in some way? If these parables are about going from a little to a lot, why is Jesus teaching a story of a little spoiled yeast working its way into a bakery truck load as an example of the kingdom of God?
During Jesus’ time and the writing of Matthew’s gospel, the belief was that the kingdom could only consist of those known as morally and ritually pure. Jesus’ message yields a kingdom to include corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes confounding the chief priests and elders, the religious giants. Is Jesus teaching us that hidden in the kingdom is hope for all who choose to believe, especially the corrupt, the spoiled and the tainted?
Jesus doesn’t let up. Recollecting the ancient rabbinic saying, “There is only one safe repository for money – the earth.” In a society often under attack and invasion, hiding money in the good earth is not unusual; especially those about to be exiled. Years later, not aware of a hidden treasure, a man faithfully goes about the dullness of his daily duties, tending the field. Quite unexpectedly he stumbles upon a hidden treasure. Without delay, he joyfully sells all that he has to buy the field. Perhaps Jesus is teaching: the kingdom of God may well be found hidden in our everyday work, when we stumble upon it, may we boldly, hurriedly act to possess it and share it!
Next Jesus contrasts the unexpected discovery of the kingdom with an intentionally long involved search. Is a life found in Christ worth sacrificing all that we have? Here’s a truth. Following Christ is no easy task, especially in this day and age where we easily conceal the jewel of Christ by coveting so many earthly possessions. Then, when we find the pearl of the kingdom, and sell all that we have to own the pearl, we may ask, will our wealth buy our way into the kingdom of God? The truth is, God’s kingdom is not some precious jewel, some coveted commercial enterprise, some gourmet delight that we can own, control or consume. The kingdom of God is God’s given freely to us through God in Christ’s life, Christ’s death, Christ’s resurrection. Christ comes that we will know not what is hidden, but what is revealed to us in the love, grace and mercy of God.
God has done what God does so well with God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is hidden for us in plain view. In the everyday ordinariness of our lives is where we will find God’s world. In the first blooms bursting forth in winter planted bulbs. In the banquet host who doesn’t even have to be asked to make up a plate for the gentleman standing alone waiting out the rain. In the surprise of a child who smiles with delight as he makes the leap across the creek without falling in. In the blessed newcomer who simply confesses in her search that, “the church is where I find God and God’s people.”
Before Jesus goes off to his home town of Nazareth where he is both embraced and rejected, he teaches one more story to his fishermen disciples: the kingdom of God is like a net full of every kind of fish. Hidden within the net are fish with all kinds of motives both righteous and wicked. We’re reminded that God draws the net. And, it is God who does the sifting and the sorting.
Jesus has lots to say about God’s kingdom. He has lots to say about our ways of keeping God’s kingdom hidden. Jesus also teaches, God’s world is God’s and God’s world is not intended to be hidden. Rather, God’s world is made to blossom fully, to enrich the ordinary, to unearth the unexpected, to reveal that which is precious, and to joyfully catch us up in God’s love, grace and mercy through the life and ministry of Jesus.
We don’t have the privilege of simply hearing the stories. Not only is there much to talk about, there’s much to do as God’s kingdom dwellers. Our work? Boldly reveal the kingdom as we know it as the church. Share our gifts. Serve with extravagance. Invite others to hear the Good News. God’s world is not intended to be hidden. Let’s get to work. Jesus calls us to be faithful stewards with God in Christ in bringing forth the beauty and majesty of God’s kingdom. And that’s something to talk about!