The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
The Reverend Ashley Mather, Curate

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Parables, Parables, Parables

If you’ve worshiped with us for the past couple weeks, or at least worshiped with a community that follows the Revised Common Lectionary, then you may have noticed that we’ve been hearing a lot of parables. More specifically, we’ve been hearing a lot of parables that have a similar message: that the kingdom of heaven is inclusive and that it’s up to God to place judgement, not us.

When I preached last, I mentioned that Jesus didn’t just tell parables because they already made sense, he told parables to make sense of things that didn’t make sense in the first place. If Jesus had this many parables about exclusivity and that we are not the ones who place judgement, and if this is the third week in a row of these parables, then this must be really important. There are many things said in Scripture that might be unclear and we are left to discern the direction that we ought to be going in, but this is not one of those times. Jesus is making it very clear for the disciples and for us that we are to welcome all and save the judgement for God.

Today we hear five brief parables. The first two express how the kingdom of heaven will grow in ways that we can’t necessarily control. We love to talk about these two parables, the mustard seed and leav-ened bread, in a way that makes them nice and clean. But the idea of a mustard plant and yeast were not appealing to people during Jesus’ time. If you’ve ever spent time in the south, then you’ve most likely heard of kudzu: it’s a type of vine that’s everywhere. It can destroy power lines and buildings, and many Southerners loathe even the idea of kudzu. The mustard plant is like kudzu in the sense that it takes over and can’t be controlled. For the second parable, we must remember the importance of unleavened bread for the Jewish people. It’s a symbol that connects them with passover and with the exodus out of Egypt. Yeast wasn’t forbidden, per se, but it typically wasn’t used.

The mustard seed and yeast were radical ideas for the people of that time. But Jesus doesn’t leave the people with just these radical ideas, he then brings in two parables that communicate the joy of the king-dom of heaven that simply can’t be contained. A joy that causes people give up all that they possess, so that they can take part in this joy.

The last parable in this set, however, might cause some pause. We go from how the kingdom grows to it’s joy to judgement with “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It’s a bit jarring, so I want to spend a little extra time on this particular parable.

In seminary, I took a class on the parables of Jesus. We were put into groups of three or four and were assigned certain parables to explore, ask questions, research, and write sermons about. The parable of the net is one of the parables that my group explored.

One of my group mates was particularly gifted in biblical Greek and pointed out that the word “net” was actually a specific type of net. This person said: “I made the assumption, just as many others would have, that the net mentioned in this parable is the usual minute net cast over strategically from a boat. But after closer observation and study, the word net in this parable is unique only to this scripture. This version of a net is Greek for σαγήνη (sagena), and is not just any net, but the root word descriptor specifically for a dragnet. Dragnets are unique in that they are tethered to the bottom of the water by weights, sedentary, instead of cast from a boat. It is ever expansive, ever present, ever inescapable. It’s as if we have a tethered, unavoidable wall to be captured into. But rather than thinking of it as a netted barrier of exclu-sion, think of it as a beautiful metaphor for inclusion. No matter how hard you try to run from God or you try to scare others
away, you are automatically welcomed into the dragnet-ed kingdom, inclusive of all…”

The second part of this parable, the part with he “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” we are once again re-minded that judgement is not up to us. It says “the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous…” We are not the angels…we are not God…we are not in charge of who gets sorted where.

So what are we to make of this parable, of who gets kept and gets thrown back? As humans, we have shown that we are full of bravery and compassion. At the same time, we have also shown that we can be cruel and cowardly. And these qualities can and do live in the same persons. These can live in each of us. Getting caught up in trying to determine how God is going to sort humanity misses the point of the par-able. We all have the freedom to make choices in what our priorities are and how we treat each other.

My group mates and I wondered how we can take this a step further? How do we care for and protect one another? And I’m constantly asking myself how we do we do this during such a critical time in all of our lives. Although we naturally group ourselves with certain groups of people based off many differ-ent factors, we still have to live in this world where our morals and ideologies are not the same. What does it look like to share this world with others, especially not knowing how we will be sorted once we’ve been pulled into the net?

We live in a big world with a lot of different types of people, and it’s not up to us to judge how we will ultimately be sorted. As Christians we have a responsibility to share God’s love with the
gift of inclusion and without the judgement. Even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard, God is there to help us through this messy world.

Welcome all who join you in the net. Don’t judge. Welcome them.