The reign of God is like…
With these words Jesus teaches us to recognize God’s activity in the world
Now, we’re still in Matthew chapter 13, where we’ve been bouncing around for three weeks, hearing a variety of these kingdom parables which are very much connected. So that I think it’s helpful to recap a bit, especially since I’ve not been here preaching on these texts – though I’m sure Pastor Strockbine did a wonderful job…
Back a couple of weeks ago we read the parable of the Sower and the Seed about how the sower spread an abundant amount of seed almost willy nilly – seemingly unconcerned about the type of soil onto which it fell.
And, having read the parable, we then read the interpretation which is offered, not to the whole crowd, according to the Gospel, but only to the disciples who come in private later asking for it.
Now, what’s really going on here in this parable – as well as in the interpretation we read following the parable of the wheat and the weeds last week – has been the source of a lot of scholarly debate. And I happen to agree with the scholars who say that the interpretations reflect Matthew’s community’s struggles, and their attempt to think back to what Jesus taught, and then to apply it to their particular situation, which can help, at least, to explain why the interpretations are so different from the parables themselves – why they go so much further than the parables do, especially in terms of their condemnations.
Remember, Matthew’s community was facing trouble on several fronts.
They faced 1. persecution at the hands of Rome
2. rejection from those who were no longer willing to welcome followers of Jesus in any way as fellow Jews
and 3. internal dissension, and the very real possibility of a schism – a permanent split in Matthew’s community of believers.
Keeping these things in mind, if you go back to the parables themselves, and then read the interpretations, you’ll see the community struggling to come to grips with the reality of life as the church as it differs from the ideal –
from what we all wish life in God’s reign would be like.
And so we come to the end of today’s Gospel reading where Jesus says: “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.”
The community out of which Matthew’s Gospel comes to us remembered what was old – the sayings and stories and teachings of Jesus which had been passed down orally for decades by the time this Gospel was written down, and, in interpreting those sayings and stories and teachings in light of their own experiences, they brought out of the treasure what wasnew…
Now, there are those who would argue with this type of approach to the Gospel text, who want to put the same weight on the parables as on the interpretation – and that’s fine if it works for you. But, notice, we find a very different message in the rest of the parables, many of them very short and not followed by interpretations – four of which we read today.
Here’s the first two:
The reign of God is like a mustard seed – a tiny little seed that grows up into a tree that is so large that the birds of the air come and make their nests in it.
The reign of God is like a little bit of yeast that is able to cause three measures of flour to rise.
In these parables we learn of the expansive nature of God’s loving grace, and about how God desires to use what might seem small to us to cause big changes.
But where do we find ourselves in these images? In what ways do these parables confrontus?
How are we like the mustard seed or yeast? How might God desire to use you even in simple ways – in ways that may seem insignificant to you, but in God’s economy, might make a whole world of difference?
Well, maybe it’s as simple as your willingness to show kindness to someone in need – to help someone carry a heavy package out of a store, to help a neighbor change a tire, even just to ask someone how their day is going.
And how are we reflective of the tree or the leavened flour?
How do our individual gifts as they’re taken and used by God’s Spirit combine to become something beyond ourselves?
Well, maybe it’s our presence as a community of faith that’s welcoming to all –
That’s open to and strives to serve the wider community, that seeks to live outside of our own walls rather than becoming so turned in on ourselves that we fail to recognize how, by God’s Spirit, we can be a place of shelter and nurture for a world in need. Note how these parables fit nicely together and have the same basic meaning of welcome and inclusivity in the Gospel…
Notice, then, also, how nicely the next two parables fit together as they both have to do with placing value on one’s participation in God’s reign.
Many people avoid risks in life allowing the fear of possible negative outcomes to stop them from making certain decisions or following a certain path. But what about a sure thing? What if you were 100% assured that the risk would pay off – if all possibility of loss were removed? What would you be willing to risk then?
God’s reign is like a treasure discovered hidden in a field. The finder knows that the treasure is there and therefore has no problem selling all that he has to buy the field and with it, the treasure. It’s a sure thing.
God’s reign is like a pearl of such great value that a merchant would think nothing of selling everything he owned in order to own that one pearl. It’s a sure thing.
For some of us living outside of ourselves as the previous two parables call us to do is risk enough. It’s risky saying everybody’s welcome because that might mean someone joins that I don’t agree with, or it might mean I have to welcome someone who looks, or lives, or thinks, or believes differently than I do and what then?
What does that do to the value of my own little piece of God’s reign?
But, you see, it’s exactly that – that radical openness, that extreme love, that grace beyond measure – that’sexactly what the treasureis. And it’s a sure thing.
And when the people of God really put themselves out there, living beyond themselves – beyond their own concerns and cares in life, trusting that God, indeed, will cause all things to work for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose – when we start to sow the seeds of God’s grace as extravagantly
as the sower in the parable from a couple weeks ago, when we start to live like we believe what we say – that God really does love the whole world so much that Jesus came and died and rose again that the whole world might be brought from death to life, like the reign of God really is big enough for everyone, when we start to live as though the Gospel of Christ has greater value than anything else in heaven or on earth and that there’s nothing more important in all of life than sharing that message, then we start to see what Jesus is saying in these parables,
and why Paul can say with such confidence that there’s nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Christ. There’snothing that can separate us from the love of God!…
So what then are we to do with the last parallel set – the parable of the wheat and weeds which we read last week
and the parable of the dragnet in this week’s Gospel reading?
Each can be read as if they have to do with separation – dividing the wheat from the weeds that grew up together in the same field and the good fish from the bad fish that were caught up together in the same dragnet.
One could choose to read them with the focus on the fact that there’s one field, and one dragnet, and we’re all in this together, rather than focusing on the threat of exclusion and separation. Remember, there’s nothing in all creation that can separate us from God’s love in Christ!
There are people who believe that the gifts of wisdom and discernment – gifts from God to be sure – are to be used in order to determine who deserves to be in and who deserves to be out of God’s kingdom, who are true, and who are false believers, who are wheat and who are weeds, who are good fish and who are bad fish, so that we can do the job of separation and condemnation. But notice in the parable of the dragnet, as well as in the parable of the wheat and weeds, it is not our job to make such determinations. That job belongs to God and to God’s angels.
Our job is to share the Gospel – to demonstrate, as Jesus did in these parables, just what it looks like when God’s reign breaks into our world, to live with open hearts and open hands.
So what might the reign of God look like in our life in the days, weeks, months and years to come?
How might God complete the sentence through you – through us?
The reign of God is like… what?
It’s up to God.
And I gotta tell you, I can’t wait to see it