Matt. 13:31-33, 44-52
As I mentioned last week, today we have five parables that come rapid-fire one right after another with no explanation.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast. The kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a valuable pearl. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that catches fish of every kind.
All these are then followed up with one of my favorite verses: “Have you understood all this?” Like your 9th grade algebra class, everyone says, “Yes,” with a dumbfounded expression on their faces and glazed-over eyes.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone plants in a field, like yeast a woman mixes in with three measures of flour, like men who sell all their possessions after finding hidden treasure and a valuable pearl, and like a fishing net that catches both good and bad fish.
Far from understanding all this, I'm left trying to figure out just what Jesus is saying.
There are basically two ways to address these five parables. The first is to delve deeply into each parable, drawing your attention to possible meanings or possible implications. So if I take about 10 minutes per parable, plus the opening and closing, you're looking at a 55-minutes sermon. So let's not do that.
A second way is to find a common theme between them, which seems more reasonable. So what is the common theme between a mustard seed, yeast, hidden and valuable treasures, and a fishing net? The common theme as I see it is the kingdom of heaven. And before you say, “No kidding, Captain Obvious,” stay with me here. The kingdom of heaven is so beyond our comprehension that Jesus uses multiple parables that reflect certain aspects which help us see the complete picture. So let's take a look at these kingdom parables.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which someone planted in their field. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixes in with three measures of flour. In these two parables, the kingdom of heaven is easily missed, but subversively powerful.
The kingdom of heaven is easily missed because the mustard seed and yeast are really small. They are subversively powerful in that they affect everything around them. This small seed grows into a large shrub becoming a tree that welcomes birds to nest. The yeast in the three measures of flour hearkens back to Genesis when Sarah made cakes for the three visitors. It changed the flour in a way that provided a great amount of food in a generous act of hospitality.
The mustard seed and the yeast change things in a way that disrupts the status quo, offering rest and refreshment to those who otherwise might find none. And isn't that what the kingdom of heaven is all about – offering a home of rest and refreshment which disrupts how people normally do business? The kingdom of heaven also offers a place of refuge where people are accepted, loved, and fed.
The kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great value which someone sells all he has to obtain. These are, or seem to be, unrealistic acts. Which of us would sell everything we own in order to purchase one thing of value? But this is exactly what the kingdom of heaven is – a hidden treasure that is subversively hospitable and disruptive; and for us to participate in that, we need to be all in.
The kingdom of heaven offers rest and refreshment for all. The kingdom of heaven disrupts the systems of the world. If we want to be part of that, we need to give up those things that keep us beholden to the ways of the world. We need to be willing to give up attitudes and behaviors that are comfortable for us but limiting or discriminatory to others. We need to give up the way we've always done things in favor of how God wants things done.
We don't do this by accident. We do it purposefully and intentionally with the goal of finding what God has planted or what God has kept hidden from the world. The world says we can't house people living on the streets. God says, “Here's a big tree, let everyone come and make a home.” The world says, “We only have limited resources.” God says, “Here's some yeast, go change things and feed those in need.”
We need to look for ways to subvert the systems of the world that are based in racism, classism, power, and control. And when we find it, we need to give up everything to pursue kingdom goals.
Finally, at the end of the age, the net of the kingdom of heaven will be cast far and wide catching fish of every kind. The angels will then separate the righteous from the evil, the good from the bad.
The net, as the kingdom of heaven, wants everyone.
It wants all people to be part of it. Our catechism reflects this when it says the mission of the Church is to restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ. But the reality is that not all people want to be part of the kingdom of heaven. There are also those who actively work against it – those who work for the benefit of worldly power structures, against Godly equality, and against God himself. Those are evil and demonic forces. They are also forces that we have to live with and swim next to. But at the end of the age, those evil forces will be caught up in the kingdom's net and tossed aside.
All five of these parables are kingdom parables. All five let us know what the kingdom of heaven is like. All five are needed because Jesus is trying to explain in human terms what exists beyond what we can envision. To borrow from Paul, “Now we see only dimly.”
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone sowed in his field. Nobody sows a mustard seed in a field because it grows into this big shrub or tree that takes away resources and invites birds to come and nest. Planting that seed is an act of subversion that disrupts how the world does business.
The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who mixes yeast into three measures of flour. That yeast changes the composition of the flour allowing it to rise and feed a great number of people. In a world that limits resources, the yeast of the kingdom of heaven is a subversive act giving us a foretaste of God's heavenly, generous banquet. The abundance of this meal subverts the world's focus on scarcity.
The kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure or rare pearl that you actively seek out. Part of our relationship with God is to seek him out. Seeking after God is woven all through Scripture. Ps. 27:11 says, “You speak in my heart and say, 'Seek my face,' * Your face, O Lord, will I seek.” We are called to seek out after God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In other words, we are called to give our all in pursuit of that hidden treasure and pearl of great price – which reflect the presence of God.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea catching fish of every kind. It is not our job to separate the good from the evil, but it is the job of the angels to do that at the end of the age. The kingdom of heaven starts small but will subvert the systems of the world to create a place where all can live and be fed. The kingdom of heaven, because it begins small and is subversive, must be actively sought after with all that we are and all that we have. The kingdom of heaven seeks to draw in all people.
Do you understand all this?
Then let us bring into the world a new message of holy subversion mixed with an old faith that gives rhythm and substance to our lives.