Summary: Sermons by Father Dave ...
Our Gospel reading this week confronts us with a series of parables - the sort that my dad (if he was still alive) might well have referred to as MacDonaldtown Parables.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with MacDonaldtown Station. It‘s not far from our church building. I don’t believe there’s actually a place called MacDonaldtown. There’s just the station. It is a rather small station that was built initially to drop off workers at the large rail repair yards that used to be located there. The yards are long gone. The station remains, nestled between Newtown and Redfern - two major stations that feed large residential areas.
Reading through the Gospels can be like - moving from one significant parable to the next - the Parable of the Sower (that we heard last week), the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When we come to this small group of parables though, we have reached a station where few people get on or get off. These are the MacDonaldtown Parables. They’ve always been there. We‘ve noticed them before in our passing., but they’ve probably never seemed significant enough to hold our attention for long.
I have yet to visit anyone in hospital, and have them ask me to read to them one of these parables – ‘Father, before I die, read to me again the parable of the mustard seed.’ No. These are the MacDonaldtown Parables - familiar, but not overly exciting.
Let’s see if we can come up with some fresh insights into them today.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (vs. 31-32)
I don’t know if you deal much in mustard seeds. I don’t. I looked around to see if we had any mustard seeds at home. We didn’t. We had this - a jar of Keen’s mustard. The problem is that when I picked it up I had a sudden case of Dijon Vu. I could have sworn I’d had this mustard before
I hope I don’t seem too irreverent. The truth is that parables are often intended as jokes, with camels going through the eye of a needle, and finding dust in someone else’s eye when you’ve got a log in your own. And here, with the mustard seed, where you’ve got the smallest of all seeds developing into a magnificent piece of foliage.
True? Well, from what I understand, the mustard tree is hardly an impressive plant in its adult form - more like an oversized weed from the descriptions I’ve been given.
‘And birds of the air come and build their nests in this oversized shrub’, Jesus says. ‘Very small birds’, he neglects to add.
And what about this woman?
“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” (vs.33)
Unless you’re a baker by trade, you might miss the fact that Jesus is talking about an absurdly large amount of dough in this parable - using the equivalent of 40 kilograms of flour, as I understand it! We’re talking about a lot of dough, and a large woman!
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (vs.44)
I remember as a young guy, enthusiastically digging holes in the family backyard, hoping that I might uncover some buried treasure. I uncovered a gas pipe once.
I accept now that there’s not a lot of pirates’ gold buried in the backyards of suburban Australia. Even so, in the Middle East, in areas of land where Jesus was, where numerous tribes, peoples, and civilisations had fought over the same plots of ground over many generations, it was always possible that one of the previous owners of your property had stashed his treasure deep in the ground when he saw the enemy coming, and didn’t get an opportunity to redeem it.
The law then (as now I think) is that it’s the owner of the property, rather than the person who discovers the treasure, who is the rightful owner of buried wealth, though I think in our law, once it reaches a certain depth, all buried treasure becomes Commonwealth property. If only I had know this, my parents’ back yard might have been saved a lot of trauma. On the other hand, Newtown would probably not enjoy the wonderful underground rail system that it has in place today either.