Rev. Scott Trotter
St. Stephen’s, Blytheville and Calvary, Osceola
July 24, 2011
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A, Proper 12
Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 105:1-11; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
As a rule I’m not fond of the times when the lectionary chops up scripture and stitches it back together. This morning’s Gospel is an exception. First, it actually allows us to hear more of the Gospel. Secondly, it actually allows us to hear more of the Gospel. Yes I know, the same sentence, twice. The first time is because to add anything else to the parables of seeds or the parable of tares, would be distracting. The second time is because putting these, other wise skipped, parables together creates a new listening experience out of something old.
This morning we hear five, maybe six parables. They come at us fast and furious. Almost like listening to a stand up comic, when we are still laughing, not fully appreciating the fully subtlety of the last joke, and find we are being pulled into the next comic shtick. And it works. The unrelenting pace, provocative juxtaposition of ideas that don’t belong together half formed thoughts prick our heart and souls provoke our minds tease us into thinking about that which we are not likely to otherwise think about. In so doing, parables serve as an opening, a window into the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Now that you know all about how parables work, I want to set the context. Things have changed in 2000 years. When I say mustard you think of: [HOLD UP BOTTLE OF MUSTARD]. People in Jesus day would think of a weed [HOLD UP A WEED]. When I say yeast you think of [HOLD UP PACKET OF YEAST]. People in Jesus day would think of moldy bread [HOLD UP OLD MOLDY BREAD]. When I say hidden treasure [HOLD UP NOTHING]. Of course you can’t see it; it’s hidden. When I say pearls [HOLD UP NOTHING]. Angie wouldn’t let me have her mother’s pearls. When I say end of time you think of [HOLD UP TIMER @ ZERO].
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field …”
Folks are going to wonder who sows mustard, weed seeds in his field? Doesn’t he know that’s against Torah? When he describes the mustard shrub as the greatest of all trees, they may well wonder if he is taking a jab at, lampooning Imperial Rome. Since ancient days the tree has been a symbol imperial power.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour …”
Some folks are wondering why Jesus is taking about corruption. (Mold is a symbol of corruption.) Others will be astounded by three measures, that’s 80 lbs of flour, it makes 100 pounds of dough, enough bread for 100 or more people. They may even recall Abram hosting three strangers with 3 measures of flour, and ponder the possibility of festival celebration, perhaps a messianic celebration. Some may wonder why a woman is in a depiction of the Kingdom at all.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then … goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Folks are going to wonder, What’s he doing wondering around in someone else’s field? They might also question his honesty. They might recall Jesus saying: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Some might ponder the single-mindedness of the merchant. Those who stick around might recall the parable when Jesus invites the rich young man to sell all you have, … then come and follow me.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind. … [fishermen] put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. …”
Some folks are going to think, There he goes again, doom and gloom, I don’t have time for this.
Finally, Jesus asks his disciples,
“Do you understand?”
They say, Yes. We almost laugh, ‘cause we know better.
We are all familiar with the idea of surprising growth in the parables of the mustard seed and leaven. Are we prepared for the unexpected, perhaps forbidden ways the Kingdom is / will be present? Are we prepared for the scandal? Are we prepared for the abundance of the Kingdom? We are all familiar with idea of value associated with the parable of the treasure. Do we glean that the Kingdom is hidden, from leaders of the day from the general public. Do we remember when Jesus teaches about the purposes of parables he says You’ve been given the secretes, insight into God’s kingdom…What an awesome responsibility.
Have we ever pondered that the agorazō (ag-or-ad’-zo) literally means to go to market, by implication to purchase; specifically to buy –to redeem.
We are comfortable with the parables of the treasure and the pearl reflecting the value of the Kingdom. Do we ponder its teachings about the cost of discipleship? Do we ponder how it foreshadows the cost of redemption Jesus pays on the cross? Has it ever occurred to us that we, that all humanity is the treasure, Jesus redeems.
I’m not one to spend much time on the end of time. Nonetheless time will end there will be Judgment Day. We are use to the doom and gloom threats of eschatological language. But there is so much more, there is always the assurance that the righteousness of God will prevail.
The only thing that comes to mind about old and new, is the wedding ditty: something old, something new … something blue. However one commentator reflects how Jesus, how redemption by the cross, how the Kingdom now includes the Gentiles is something new which emerges from Jewish scripture, Jewish traditions, something old.
Friday afternoon all this was sketched out and I was pondering the something new from something old bit; it does fit our circumstances. Times up, not the end time, just lunch time. And there I was, pondering nothing when it occurs to me that as baptized Christians we are living parables. Yes,, we are old and moldy around the edges. No, no one would plant us. It certainly seems that we are hidden away, guarding the Kingdom of God, sometimes single mindedly guarding it. urgently holding on. Yet, the parables reveal to us how to be parables, how to be stewards of the secretes of Kingdom given into our care. We are small perhaps of no consequence; yet we can stand against the abuses of imperial powers of the world, in all its manifestations. We may be old, out of style, out of date, out of place, but we can quietly go about living our lives, as if the Kingdom of God were right here right now. With single mindedness in all we do and all we say, we can seek and reveal the Kingdom of God. And we can do that with a paradoxically patient urgency.
We know time will run out, that the universe will not run on forever but we trust that the weak strength of God’s righteousness will prevail.
We can be, we should be, we are living parables. Collectively our lives are a fast and furious rush of living shticks teasing, provoking others to muse upon the unthinkable The Kingdom of God is here, and I am invited.
Hmm … perhaps we are something new from something old.