Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Gospel Text for Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Jesus put before the crowds another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.


  1. These are familiar parables to me. I have always heard them as descriptions of how I should seek the kingdom of God and of how the kingdom works its influence in the world – like yeast in dough. But, this time I hear them not as lessons about how I should behave but as descriptions of how God is behaving. I can read them instead as pictures of God's actions, not mine. Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom of heaven. So all that the kingdom is, is in him, and who Jesus is, is the kingdom.
    Jesus is the seed sown, buried, in the ground who grows and welcomes all the birds of the air into his branches. And who are the branches of the vine: those who are his followers. Jesus is the yeast who is willing to be hidden in the dough of life, whose presence expands and lightens all. Who is the one who sold all that he has (“emptied himself, Philippians 2:7) and bought the field in which he found the treasure: the treasure which is humanity. Who is the merchant who acted so radically to sell all his possessions (“not counting himself equal with God”) and purchase the grand pearl, so precious in his eyes. Jesus is the net who draws into himself all kinds of fish and brings them to the shore, where they can be received if they will.
    After telling these parables Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you understood all this?” I feel like the disciples. I have answered, “Yes,” with my old understanding. But the disciples did not understand at all. There was so much in Jesus' message that they could not grasp; so much they could not accept because if was beyond the categories in which they thought. I have NOT understood the radical, ridiculous nature of God, of Jesus. Jesus yielding to death that life might come, not as a noble sacrifice but in the risk of hope in this way of God. God as a marginally reputable buyer who is so captivated by the treasure that he acts on the sly to gain it. God as a merchant who foolishly liquidates the goods by which he maintains his living to buy the jewel that has enraptured his eye. Jesus letting himself be dragged through the sea of mixed humanity so he can bring as many as will to shore.
    Such a God. Such a kingdom, or King.
    Then the clincher, as Matthew reports it. You disciples think you understand. You think you have insight into the ways of God. You think your knowledge is adequate. A true scribe, a learner, is one who willing casts out his treasure, whether it be old or new, that he might welcome the gift coming. I have had this line wrong too. I have taken it to mean that a good teacher carefully and methodically selects from his knowledge and new learning what is beneficial to teach. But the word is not “draws out,” carefully. It is “casts out,” violently. It is used most to describe the casting out of demons! Jesus is not commending the disciples' wisdom and telling them they are doing a good job of learning. That is contrary to the whole thrust of the parables. Jesus is saying one must abandon the treasure held and stand open to the gift of the kingdom, the One who is the Kingdom.
    Jesus, I do not understand your words, your ways, and the nature of your Father. But I keep following.

  2. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed, leaven, a treasure, a pearl , a net. The way I read that is, the Presence of God on earth is like a seed, leaven, a treasure, a pearl, a net that gathers everyone to God’s self. And much as we can see seeds and the trees that arise from them, as we can surmise the presence of leaven in a loaf of bread by its effect on the dough rising, so too is God’s Presence recognizably manifest in the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is not some distant conceptual place it is right here in the most ordinary things of earth. When we humans open our eyes and ears we may have a conscious experience of God Presence hidden in the ordinary.

    But recognizing the Presence of God on earth is not the end of the story. Like the mustard seed and the leaven, the Kingdom of Heaven is active in the world, growing, spreading and inviting us to experience its shade, build our home – our lives, in its branches . Like the merchant in Jesus parable, realizing there is something of value that is at first hidden or not immediately apparent, we are to search for it and then reorient our lives toward it. Yes something is required of me.

    I get a bit nervous when I read the bit about selling everything for the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price. Everything? But the more I ponder that passage the more I think that the God of love who gives of God’s self so generously as to be found in all things, surely that God would not want me to give up all the things in which God is found. No. God would have me give up only those things which keep me from recognizing God in all things… my blindness, acquisitiveness, greed, fear. And perhaps fear is the greatest stumbling block because fear prevents faith. Fear prevents belief in that which is hidden, and without faith that the treasure or the pearl is indeed there present why would I begin to search for it?

    Holy God, replace my fear with faith sufficient to seek You in all things on earth. Amen

  3. "... that he has no desire for ought creaturely, save so far as he may apprehend therein the Pure God."
    Meister Eckhart