Summary: God is waiting in the weeds of our lives to bind up our wounds and mend the disease that separates us from ourselves and one another and from all that is holy.
Have you ever tried to describe a difficult or abstract concept to someone, especially when you know that the person you are speaking to doesn’t know anything about what you are talking about? If you have, you know what Jesus is trying to do in these five parables from Matthew’s Gospel reading. Jesus is trying to describe the abstract concept of God’s Kingdom in terms that his audience could understand.
What we have just heard is a series of pictures that show what the Kingdom of God is like. The Kingdom is not easy to understand or explain, so Jesus has to use several different analogies to get his point across to different audiences. All of these parables are about transformation-specifically, how the Kingdom of God transforms believers.
The first parable Jesus uses is the parable of the mustard seed. On a personal note, this parable has a special place in my heart because I preached my very first sermon on that parable. The growth of the mustard seed is a good description of how my preaching ministry and skills have grown since 2006.
The radical concept in this parable is the idea that God’s world is different from many aspects of the world we live in. It is an inclusive, merciful and egalitarian community based on practical, merciful, loving service to others. For example the ministry of the Billy Graham evangelistic Association has served God and man by bringing the Good News to millions of people around the world, and that ministry started in 1934 when God planted the seed of the Holy Spirit in heart of Billy Graham.
The parable shows that big things come in small packages. The Kingdom comes to us in small ways such as through the ordinary people we meet on our Christian walk of faith. Whenever we serve the poor, the elderly or the sick, we are serving God and His Kingdom. A good example is the work of Franklin Graham and the Christian relief organization he is the president of-namely, Samaritan’s Purse. It has spread the Good News of the hope of the Kingdom through its relief work in areas that have been affected by war, sickness or disaster.
Jesus intended to use this parable to encourage the early disciples as they faced overwhelming odds, and this parable continues to encourage disciples today. Most of the church’s work gets done in ordinary circumstances. Our mission seems overwhelming, and our resources seem too few, but Jesus promises that God’s power makes everything possible.
The Kingdom also comes in hidden and unexpected ways, as described in the parable of the yeast. Today, yeast comes in neat little packages, but Jesus was talking about leaven, which was a rotten, moldy lump of bread. The woman in the parable hid the leaven in good flour. This sounded unclean to the people of Jesus’ day because of the prevailing attitudes regarding cleanliness and women, but the point of this parable is that God’s Kingdom takes hold in hidden and unexpected ways.
The parables of the treasure and the pearl show us what our allegiances should be and where they should be. Was the treasure seeker behaving in an unethical manner? Maybe yes, maybe no, but that isn’t the point. The point is that both the treasure and the pearl can’t be kept secret. God’s Kingdom also can’t be kept secret, and it must not be kept secret. We are to spread the Good News about the Kingdom-just like the mustard seed grows and spread out. When we do this, we have to pay a cost. We have to give up something of worldly value in order to gain something of even more value.
There is an even greater cost that we must be prepared to pay. Following Jesus can lead to rejection by society and/or our family, as many Christians in the Third World know all too well. There might be jail time, beatings or worse. There’s no way to follow Jesus without a cross, but guess what? Some people, just at Jesus’ warning, drop everything they are doing, desert their parents, let their work go down the drain and follow Him. That’s what the Kingdom of God does to those who find it, says Jesus.
The Kingdom starts out small and grows into the Good News, a treasure worth giving up everything else to get. Why is that? It is because our old way relies on a false God who likes to punish people, a false God who justifies the ways in which we punish each other. In Jesus we meet a God of forgiveness and grace and love. We meet him in our daily lives as he hosts us in the meal of forgiveness and grace, the meal of peace for this world.
The parable of the net of fish means that God’s kingdom is available to everyone. It catches good and evil, and our job as Christians is to pull that net through the water of our communities and grab whatever we can. This is God’s way. Some undesirables will grow into genuine Kingdom people, and some who seemed promising in the beginning will betray God in the end. We are not responsible for keeping out riff-raff. The evil is tossed back by tossing it into the fires of hell, and God’s Kingdom is accomplished in the end.