By Joe, a Reader at St. Mary's
Today I’d like to focus on the Gospel reading from Matthew.
Just to put you in the picture as to what’s happened previously….
Jesus has retired to a boat on seeing the crowd that has gathered to listen to him, and is floating around in the sea of Galilee, close in to the shore, and from this boat he is teaching the people in parables.
He started with the Parable of the Sower, and has shared other parables and, including one that we will return to later – that of the wheat and the weeds. When asked by his disciples why he teaches in parables, he tells them that it is in fulfilment of a prophecy from Isaiah, in which the prophet states the word of God:
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.
Jesus is effectively telling the disciples that he teaches in parables to lay the truth before people, whilst at the same time knowing that only those with un-calloused hearts will truly understand what He means.
Some parables are explained; others are just given and it is left for the listeners to discern the meaning.
The five parables in today’s reading are short and, are all to do with the Kingdom of God. They fall in to three categories, allowing us to reflect up on the growth of the Kingdom from tiny, almost invisible beginnings, the value of the Kingdom as being beyond all price, and the eventual impact of the Kingdom on the people. Oddly enough, there’s a sixth parable immediately following the end of the reading, which I’m going to mention as well.
The mustard seed is a tiny thing – but it gives rise to a big tree that birds nest in and that provides shelter for animals. It may take a while, but the seed will get there once it’s in fertile ground. The birds are representative of people who will come to live in safety in the Kingdom of Heaven when it is established.
The parable of the leavening or yeast would be meaningful to anyone who has ever baked bread. The amount of yeast needed for leavening – rising – of the dough to take place is small – and is effectively hidden within the flour at the start of the process - but its influence is soon VERY noticeable – just like the presence of the Kingdom.
This message of the hidden initial presence of the Kingdom continues with the story of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl. The treasure is exactly that – hidden away, buried, found by accident. The value of the pearl is also initially hidden – it’s not obvious just how valuable the pearl is. But in both cases the value of that which is hidden is regarded as being worth any price by the finder. And there is risk; all earthly wealth is being staked on these valuable items, just as we give all over to God when we become part of the Kingdom.
The final parable in today’s reading is reminiscent of an earlier parable – the parable of the wheat and the weeds – in Matthew 13:24. In that parable, weeds are allowed to grow with the wheat, and are separated at harvest, and the weeds are burnt by the farmer. Here, the catch of fish is only sorted when they’re landed. In each case, the message is the same:
“This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
And on to what I called the ‘bonus’ parable, shared by Jesus with the disciples after they tell him that they have understood the parables:
“Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
This parable of the householder would be aimed at teachers of Jewish laws and customs and religious authorities. The older laws of Moses, the scriptures from the Old Testament, are still valuable but are now being supplemented by new teachings that are also valuable.
So, what can we take from today’s readings and apply to our daily lives and interactions with the Kingdom?
The parable of the Mustard Seed reminds us that the Kingdom of God starts with small beginnings; the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, the formation of a small group of disciples to spread the word. Whatever you do to bring about the Kingdom, no matter how small, contributes to its growth. Don’t feel you are doing nothing to grow the Kingdom; on those days where you feel you’ve done nothing, you may have planted a tiny seed in someone’s heart.
The parable of the leavening of the bread is about the power of the Kingdom to transform things. The presence of the Kingdom may be subtle and un-noticed. It may well be all but invisible to us and to those around us. But the presence of the Kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives allow us to bring the Kingdom to others. Our daily choices and actions – as inhabitants of the Kingdom of God – allow the influence of the Kingdom to spread and transform the world around us.
The parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price reminds us that whether we encounter the Kingdom unexpectedly, or through searching for it, when we find it the results can be life-changing in all ways; our system of values will change; the things we value most in our lives will stop being the wealth of our world but will instead become the wealth of the Kingdom – joyful service and committing our lives to God.
The parable of the Householder – the ‘bonus parable’ – reminds us that the new treasures of the Kingdom as described in the New Testament are not disconnected from the teachings of the Old Testament. The old illuminates the new, provides it’s basis.
And we are finally reminded that as Christ’s followers in the Kingdom of God we’re expected – like the original disciples – to be ‘fishers of men’ – to spread the word of the Gospel and demonstrate the love of God in what we do and how we act, and hopefully encourage people into the Kingdom of God. But there is also a reminder; that in the end we will be expected to answer to Christ for our behaviour.
The Kingdom of Heaven starts from what appear to our limited vision to be tiny, apparently inconsequential actions but grows to encompass all things; that it may be invisible, but all pervading in its influence; that it may be hidden, but of incredible, inestimable, value.
The great thing about this is that it means that however small a seed we plant, however little we feel we influence something, however our actions and deeds seem to be hidden – we can still contribute to the growth of the Kingdom of God.