Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like, Psalm 119:129-136 & Mat 13:31-33,44-52,
7/27/ 14, Rev. Neil A. Margetson
Today we are treated to a series of the kingdom of heaven is like parables. These are quite different from story-based parables like the one we read last Sunday called The Sower. Kingdom is like parables constitute what I think of as a special group or category. They are similar to the stories insofar as they were intended to educate and instruct spiritual seekers, but they are quite different in character and style.
There are five of these parables in our reading and they occur in Matthew right about at the middle of the book. Jesus was well along in his ministry. He had been baptized by John and been anointed and awakened to his true identity and ministry. He had been tempted by Satan and prevailed. He had delivered the Sermon on the Mount and performed several truly miraculous healings. Had chosen The Twelve and dispatched them into the countryside to preach and heal. And he had begun to hold the large, open-air revival services for which he would
later become famous, including two where he fed thousands of people with only a few dried fish and crusts of bread. He had been seen to walk on water and do other things that no one could easily explain. In short, he was on the way to full Messiah-hood.
Jesus did not leave behind any written record or account...no transcribed doctrine or philosophy. For that reason, his remembered sayings are infinitely precious, and mostly they consist of parables, and most of those are stories.
I believe that it was in The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like parables that he left us some of his clearest statements about the way he himself experienced the world.
Just as there are two different kinds of parables - story and kingdom of heavens like - so our reading includes three different kinds of kingdom parables. First,there are three parables that attempt to describe how the Kingdom of Heaven works. Second, there is a parable that attempts to describe how the Kingdom of Heaven effects us. And finally, the last one attempts to describe what Judgement Day will be like.
The first three are Jesus’ efforts to say what cannot be said...describe what cannot be described. Each of them tells us something we must know if we are to become true spiritual seekers. What is the Kingdom? How does it operate? What are it’s secrets?
The first tells us that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed. The second, that it is like yeast in dough. Both seem at first to be quite straightforward, even homely examples. On first hearing them we think, Yes...that is so. It is so obvious. But that is an illusion, for they are deep and penetrating with many layers of meaning. Consider the example of the mustard seed. A little seed...tiny even...yet it grows into a large tree that shelters many birds. Like Jesus himself, who starts with nothing yet his words give peace and hope to millions. But there’s more to it than that. Because in fact, farmers hate having birds nearby. They devour seeds and crops and are a great nuisance. And for the same reason, farmers also hate
mustard trees. What then can the parable mean? Is this a parable about God’s goodness or is it not?
The second is similar. Yeast is something we all understand. It’s a good thing. Makes bread rise. It’s also self-propagating. It’s alive. Put a little bit in the dough and wait awhile and pretty soon it has spread throughout. Jesus seems to be telling us that God’s Word and God’s Way are like that. Once introduced they spread and grow of their own accord…permeating the whole of society, and in so doing raise us all up. That is certainly true. Yet consider...the ancient Hebrews did not use yeast. They ate only unleavened bread. Furthermore, yeast is a fungus...a mould. In a profound sense it can be said to infect the dough. If we say that God’s Word is like yeast, we might also say that it infects society as yeast infects dough.
In both cases, what at first seems a good thing may not be so good after all. What is the explanation for this?
The Gospel of Jesus was not only spiritual. It was also social and political. In a profound sense, and at every level what Jesus taught could be thought of as subversive. It turned accepted wisdom and practice upside down. It celebrated the sad and the lost, the halt and the lame. It exalted weakness and expressed nothing but disdain for wealth and power. Where the society spoke of competition and domination, Jesus spoke of cooperation and sharing, compassion and empathy. Like the mustard seed...barely large enough to notice...the Gospel arrives and once it arrives it grows and spreads until it shelters many. Gives them a home that is not subject to the needs of the farmer...who represents the status quo. Moreover, within that shelter they grow strong and come forth to defeat and devour the oppressors.
Do we begin to see that this might be a message that would be anathema to those already in power?
In the same way - like the yeast of the parable - the Gospel spreads, grows and finally takes over...changes the fundamental character of the bread which is society. And by making this analogy with yeast, Jesus is acknowledging this. That his teaching is a kind of infection. That it will not be palatable to some - especially to those who benefit from the way the world is now.
The two parables that follow both try to describe what it is like to see the truth of things. And how hard it is to achieve! One must set all else aside. All that one has learned and been taught about the world.
It is as though everyone who ever lived were going around digging holes in the ground searching for buried treasure. But no one can find it. Just so with truth. One may look high and low, near and far and as he or she goes, ask the same questions of every person met. Where can God be found? What is death? What is life? Why am I here? But they are questions which cannot be answered. And then suddenly...when all hope of success is gone...one person stubs his toe on a stone and that stone turns out to be a tablet on which is written the answers.
What would you do if you were that person? The man in our parable buys the field. But would it not have been better to share it? To dig up the stone and show it to everyone?
And the Pearl of Great Price. Is it not the same? Truth? And do we not see the same response? The need to own the truth and to keep it close. Funny because that isn’t what Jesus himself did. He didn’t buy the field or the pearl, but rather gave them away to anyone who held out a hand.
These parables are subtle and potent. They speak of things that concern us all and yet they do so in a way that often conceals messages within messages. Jesus saw that humanity is heading in the wrong direction. Away from God and truth rather than toward them. He had been chosen by God to bring humanity a message of hope and wonder, yet humanity would not listen. Or anyway only a small part of humanity would listen. So he left us these parables. Knowing that in the centuries to come we would study them and come to see that only by changing course can we find true salvation.
Perhaps he overestimated us? What do you think? Have we changed? Have we grown? Has the yeast of Jesus Gospel yet transformed the loaf? Well, no, not yet. We’re still working on it. That’s why we’re here...to work the dough...knead it and massage it and help the yeast on it’s way. To water the mustard trees and make them strong, so that many can take shelter there.
It is the final parable to which I would have us turn now...before I close. For what it suggests is both true and tragic. Jesus told many such parables...the wheat and the tares...the threshing floor. They all say the same thing. Some will be saved and some will not. This is not an easy thing to hear or to say. I do not believe that it was what Jesus hoped for. I believed he hoped to save us all. That he hoped, by his life and his death, to open a door through which anyone could walk. But though that was what he hoped for, that was not what he saw.
What he saw was a world so immersed in it’s own concerns that God had become invisible. A world where a few lived in ease, but many lived in misery. A world where those easeful few did not understand the simplest thing about humanity. About the warmth of friendship or the wonder of trust. The powerful few whose only thoughts were for their own prerogatives...for they did not even truly see those beneath them as fully real...as fully human. They were a kind of other - an other that did not really deserve humane treatment. Would not have been
capable of appreciating it, were it available to them.
But what Jesus knew was that The Kingdom of Heaven is near. We all know this. It’s so simple. Heaven is the love. It’s sitting down to a meal in fellowship. Laughing...really laughing...open throated and open hearted. Crying...from heartbreak...real heartbreak..the kind of heartbreak that opens us up to God. Giving birth. Dying with dignity. Feelings...big feelings that tear us apart. Heaven is here...now. But people don’t see it. People are still looking around to see when Christ is coming back. Or they’re watching TV. Or on Twitter. Heaven is here...Heaven is now. It’s like yeast. Yeast that makes every loaf of bread rise. Spiritual yeast.
This is what scares us. The Gospel changes us. Transforms us. Demands accountability that is beyond anything else we can know of. Like a Pearl of Great Price. Do you understand what I am telling you? Are your ears open? We don’t have to believe. God cannot make us believe. God can only Hope we will believe and in believing act and finally become the people...the world...we can be.
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed