The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 13: 31 – 33, 44 – 52

OUR GOSPEL TEXT FOR TODAY RECORDS JESUS TELLING A SERIES OF PARABLES IN RAPID SUCCESSION, AND TRYING TO GET A GRIP ON THEM SEEMS, AT FIRST, LIKE TRYING TO DRINK FROM A FIRE HOSE. IN PREVIOUS PARABLES, HE HAS OFFERED THE DISCIPLES, AND US, AN EXPLANATION, BUT HERE HE JUST FIRES OFF ONE AFTER ANOTHER, AND THEN ASKS THE DISCIPLES IF THEY UNDERSTOOD EVERYTHING HE SAID. THEIR ANSWER WAS, “YEA, LORD!” WHICH MIGHT BE BETTER TRANSLATED AS “ABSOLUTELY, LORD!” EVERY TIME I READ THIS PASSAGE, I CHUCKLE A BIT, AND CAN IMAGINE JESUS SAYING TO HIMSELF, “YEAH, RIGHT!” THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE A MUSTARD SEED, LIKE LEAVEN, LIKE FINDING A TREASURE IN A FIELD, LIKE FINDING A PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, AND LIKE A NET PULLING IN FISH OF EVERY KIND. I DOUBT ANY OF US CAN INTUITIVELY PUT IT ALL TOGETHER WITHOUT LETTING IT WORK IN OUR MINDS AND SPIRITS A BIT. THAT IS PROBABLY WHY JESUS ADDS THE LITTLE CODICIL OF BRINGING OUT NEW TREASURES AND OLD.

ALL THE PARABLES ARE ROOTED IN THE REALITIES AND EXPERIENCES OF THOSE TO WHOM JESUS SPEAKS. HE IS TALKING ABOUT THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, WHICH NO ONE EXCEPT HIM HAS EVER EXPERIENCED. IMAGINE, FOR A MOMENT, TRYING TO EXPLAIN A COLOR TO SOMEONE WHO WAS BLIND FROM BIRTH. YOU WOULD HAVE TO USE A SIMILE OR METAPHOR BASED ON AN EXPERIENCE WITH WHICH THE BLIND PERSON WAS FAMILIAR. YOU MIGHT SAY THAT BLUE IS LIKE THE COOL WIND ON YOUR FACE, RED IS LIKE THE HEAT FROM A FIRE, GREEN IS LIKE THE SMELL OF THE NEW GRASS, OR OTHER WORDS TO THAT EFFECT. THE PARABLES USE THE FAMILIAR THINGS OF OUR REALITY, WITH A HOOK OR TWIST, TO POINT TO THE ETERNAL THINGS TO COME. IN ALL, THERE IS AN UNDERLYING TENSION BETWEEN WHAT IS NOW AND WHAT IS NOT YET.

THE MUSTARD PLANT WAS CONSIDERED AN INVASIVE WEED, AND NO ONE WOULD BE EXPECTED TO SOW IT IN HIS FIELD. THE SEED IS SO SMALL THAT IT APPEARS INSIGNIFICANT, YET, OVER TIME, THE MUSTARD PLANTS WOULD TAKE OVER THE FIELD, CHOKING OUT THE OTHER CROPS. ITS BLOSSOMING INTO A TREE IS, OF COURSE, HYPERBOLE, BUT CONVEYS THE MEANING OF WHAT APPEARED TO BE INSIGNIFICANT BECOMING OVERWHELMING. THUS, WHAT GOD HAS SOWN, BEYOND ALL EXPECTATIONS, FROM A TINY START WILL LEAD TO THAT WHICH WILL OVERCOME WHAT NOW EXISTS.

THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN REINFORCES THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED. IT IS LEAVEN AND NOT YEAST OF WHICH JESUS SPEAKS. LEAVEN IS A PORTION OF LEFTOVER BREAD THAT HAS BEGUN TO FERMENT, MUCH LIKE SOURDOUGH. USUALLY IN SCRIPTURE, LEAVEN HAS NEGATIVE CONNOTATIONS, AS IN THE WARNING TO “BEWARE THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES.” THAT IS BECAUSE A SMALL BIT OF LEAVEN WILL AFFECT ALL THE FLOUR IN WHICH IT IS PLACED. THE PROPER READING OF THE GREEK TEXT IS THAT THE WOMAN HIDES THE LEAVEN IN THE FLOUR, AND THE LEAVEN, OVER TIME, CHANGES ALL THE FLOUR; ENOUGH TO FEED HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE. THUS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, WHILE HIDDEN IN THE WORLD, WILL ULTIMATELY CHANGE THE WORLD INTO ITSELF.

IN THE PARABLES OF THE TREASURE HIDDEN IN A FIELD AND THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, THE VALUE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS HELD TO BE ABOVE THE VALUE OF EVERYTHING ELSE IN THIS WORLD. WE MIGHT, UNEXPECTEDLY, FIND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WHICH IS HIDDEN IN THE WORLD, OR WE MIGHT HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR IT AMONG ALL THE COMPETING PEARLS OF THIS LIFE. IN EITHER EVENT, THE DISCOVERIES DISRUPT NORMAL DAILY LIFE AND PRIORITIES; THEY REQUIRE RISK AND SACRIFICE. THE TREASURE AND PEARL POSSESS THE FINDERS AND SHAPE THEIR LIVES. JESUS DOES NOT REQUIRE EVERYONE TO GIVE UP EVERYTHING FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, BUT WHAT HE IS SAYING IS THAT ONCE THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS REVEALED TO YOU IT MUST TAKE PRIORITY OVER ALL OTHER THINGS IN YOUR LIFE. IT MUST POSSESS YOU, BECAUSE IT IS WORTH EVERYTHING.

GOD HAS SOWN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN INTO THE SOIL OF THIS WORLD, AND, WHILE IT MIGHT NOT LOOK LIKE MUCH NOW, IT IS WORKING UNSEEN BY THE WORLD TO CHANGE ALL THAT EXISTS NOW INTO THAT WHICH WILL ENDURE FOREVER. ONCE IT IS REVEALED TO YOU, TO BECOME A PART OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, YOU MUST WANT IT MORE THAN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER WANTED BEFORE. YOU MAY NOT SEE THE HIDDEN KINGDOM OF HEAVEN CHANGING THE WORLD, BUT THE CHANGE WILL BEGIN IN YOU WHEN YOUR HEART, MIND, SPIRIT, AND ALL THAT YOU HAVE IS DEVOTED TO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN WHICH IS HERE NOW AND WILL COME IN ITS FULLNESS AT THE END OF THE AGE.

THINK OF IT, JESUS SAID, LIKE A GREAT NET CAST INTO THE SEA WHICH CAUGHT FISH OF EVERY KIND, AND WHEN IT WAS DRAWN ONTO THE SHORE THE FISHERMEN SORTED THE GOOD FROM THE BAD. THE FISHERMEN DON’T WORRY ABOUT WHAT IS IN THE NET WHILE THE NET IS BEING WORKED; IT IS ONLY AFTER THE NET HAS SERVED ITS PURPOSE THAT THE SORTING IS DONE. THE IMPLICATION IS NOT TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT THE KINGDOM LOOKS LIKE NOW WHILE GOD’S GREAT NET IS WORKING; THERE WILL BE BAD MIXED IN WITH THE GOOD SO LONG AS THIS WORLD ENDURES. WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO AVOID OR SEPARATE OURSELVES FROM THE EVILS OF THIS LIFE, OR EVEN THE EVIL THAT IS WITHIN US, WHILE GOD’S KINGDOM IS COMING TO FRUITION, BUT, AT THE END OF THE AGE, WHEN THE KINGDOM COMES IN ITS COMPLETENESS, GOD WILL SEPARATE THE FISH OF HIS KINGDOM FROM THE FISH OF THIS WORLD.

THIS IS WHEN JESUS ASKED HIS DISCIPLES IF THEY UNDERSTOOD ALL THIS, TO WHICH THEY REPLIED, “ABSOLUTELY, LORD!” HIS REJOINDER TO THEM WAS, “THEREFORE EVERY SCRIBE WHO IS 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.” A SCRIBE IS ONE WHO IS TRAINED AS AN EXPERT IN THE LAW OF GOD, AND SO A DISCIPLE OF JESUS IS TO BE EXPECTED TO PUT TOGETHER THE NEW THINGS THAT GOD IS DOING IN JESUS WITH THE LONG STORY OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS TO ISRAEL. THIS CALLING TO BE A SCRIBE TRAINED FOR THE KINGDOM IS THE CALLING FOR US TO BE TRAINED AND READY TO PROCLAIM THE TRUTH OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TO ALL THOSE TO WHOM THE KINGDOM, HIDDEN IN THIS WORLD, HAS BEEN REVEALED. WE ARE TO BE READY FOR ALL WHO THE HOLY SPIRIT CALLS INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, LIKE THOSE WHO ENTER IN THE WATERS OF BAPTISM, OR THOSE WHO SEEM TO SUDDENLY STUMBLE UPON GOD’S GRACE AND MERCY IN JESUS, OR THOSE WHO COME SEEKING A KINGDOM OF JUSTICE AND MERCY IN AN OTHERWISE UNJUST AND UNMERCIFUL WORLD. WE ARE HERE TO TELL THEM OF WHAT GOD HAS BEEN DOING, WHAT HE IS DOING NOW, AND WHAT HE WILL BRING TO COMPLETION AT THE END OF THE AGE.

THESE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM MAKE IT CLEAR THAT GOD IS NOT JUST OUT THERE SOMEWHERE ABOVE ALL THINGS, BUT IS AT WORK TO BRING THE KINGDOM MORE FULLY AMONG US, WORKING LIKE A MUSTARD SEED IN THE SOIL, OR LEAVEN HIDDEN IN THE FLOUR. EVEN THOUGH WE LIVE IN THE TENSION OF THE NOW AND THE NOT YET, THESE PARABLES CALL FOR OUR FAITH IN A GOD WHO IS BRINGING HIS KINGDOM IN CHRIST, AND A CALL TO BE LIKE A SCRIBE, READY TO KNOW, EXPERIENCE, AND SHARE BOTH THE NEW AND THE OLD TREASURES OF OUR GOD.
AMEN

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