by The Rev. Darrell Huddleston
1 Kngs. 3:5-12; Ps. 119:129-136; Rom. 8:26-39; Mt. 13:31-33, 44-52
In our gospel lesson, Jesus bombards us with one parable after another, all starting with the phrase, “The Kingdom of heaven is like…” …a mustard seed and yeast, a buried treasure and a pearl of great price and a fish dragnet. Two twined images and a solitary concluding one carrying the theme of hiddenness and searching. The Kingdom is hidden and is something to be discovered.
Perhaps a better phrase for ‘kingdom’ is ‘reign of God’ as the former implies that it might be a place, or only some ideal that will only be known in the future, certainly not in our sordid mess of a world. The ‘reign of God’, Jesus tells us, can be discovered in the here and now. Jesus said elsewhere that the Kingdom of God in our midst (Lk. 17:21). We also pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” These parables tell us it’s there….look for it, search for it, give anything to discover it for it is more than worth the effort, in fact, nothing can compare to it.
Jesus tells us it is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large plant, so large the birds can nest in it. I recall being in Dijon, France three or four years ago and all around the town are vast fields of mustard. That particular mustard variety is only about knee high. It is not the plant Jesus was talking about. The one he referred to grew into a large shrub. It’s in the ‘brassica’ family, related to broccoli, and people at the leaves. It can grow to 6, 8 or 10’ tall, with stems in maturity that became very dry and woody, almost like a tree trunk. Jesus’ point, of course, is that from a seed so tiny a plant emerges of incredible size.
It is like yeast in bread that makes it rise. The yeast was hidden in the flour, and hidden is a better translation of the Greek than kneaded. There was a word for kneading and it’s not the one used. Just by being present in those three measures of flour (around 50#), an amount that would feed a 100 people, it produced in abundance. Jesus did not mean for us to understand that bread was actually made in such a way. He knew it would have to be mixed and kneaded and he knew making bread out of three measure of flour was more than one woman could do by herself. He was again making a point about how something so small results in abundance, in growth. Yeast cells are made up of a collection of single-cell fungi. It just needs the right temperature, right moisture content and sugar or starch and bingo…carbon dioxide is produced and various metabolites and we get fermentation and finally end up with a tasty loaf of baked bread. All because of those little single-cell fungi hidden in the flour.
These two parables are about the potential for amazing growth…growing in Christ, visible to all. Like the tiny mustard seed buried in the ground and yeast in the bread, though not always seen, God is present and working. From small beginnings come great endings. Holy Cross church is a good example…but not ended yet.
His next two parables of the buried treasure and the valuable pearl conjure up images of getting rich quick. We may recognize the foolishness of that, but we are still pulled by the lure of it. Jesus, by using these images, had people’s attention.
The first person, probably a hired hand, was plowing a field, a field that did not belong to him, and accidently finds a buried treasure. He hides it, and then sells everything he owns, and buys the field. Jesus wasn’t above using a shady character to illustrate the urgency of his message. This, however, is not a parable that serves as a primer on speculating in real estate or how to make your fortune.
The second person, a merchant, is actively seeking ways to get wealthy and finds a perfect pearl and sells everything he owns to buy it. Pearls were in that day what diamonds are to people today. He might have been one of the pearl merchants that travelled as far as the Persian Gulf or India to buy them, as they were items of exchange and there was an active trade in them.
The plowman wasn’t looking, the merchant was. The plowman is joyful and though we aren’t told, we assume the merchant was as well. Jesus doesn’t tell us. Maybe he deliberately left that out to illustrate that joy is not the primary point. God’s Kingdom is the main point. Following Jesus is about giving all for THE ONE THING—-that being part of God’s reign is worth giving all, holding nothing back.
We are to be searching for the God’s reign in the world until we discover that all is holy, all is of God. It doesn’t matter whether we accidently discover it or actively seek it. I believe that being a seeker is a better path as it sets the tone for being open to the hiddenness of the kingdom in this world. It is akin to what Solomon prayed for—“an understanding to discern what is right.” It is discerned not by empirical observation, but by faith. It is faith that enables us to see an act of graciousness, of caring, of love, as God moving among us. It is faith that enables us to see redemption at work in the lives of people, to see the presence of Christ in the world. God arrives unobserved in our midst and the Kingdom of heaven is within our grasp if we will but be open and receive it.
Blaise Pascal, the great French philosopher, theologian, mathematician once said in reference to God: “I would not seek you, unless you had already found me.” Another way to translate the Reign of God is in the midst of us, is “within” us. It’s almost as if it’s part of our DNA, and perhaps it is. Because God first loved us, found us, we are moved to seek God. And it is, as St. Paul wrote, what moves us to count everything as loss, for the sake of Christ (Phil. 3:7). For Christ is the buried treasure, the perfect pearl, the yeast, the mustard seed, and—
He is the net. The large fishing nets of that day were six feet deep and a hundred yards wide. It took several men to pull them in. And in Jesus’ parable, just as in real life, the net drug in everything, the edible and inedible, with the latter being tossed aside. This is a parable of judgment on Jesus’ part, not a notion many are fond of hearing, but a reminder that God holds us accountable for what we do and say.
We are pulled into the Kingdom, sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly. I appreciate the way the Benedictine Thomas Keating talks about the Kingdom, and it’s the quote I built this sermon around:
The Kingdom of God, which is basically Christ’s consciousness,
is not a place or a society. It’s a life to be lived. It’s the
consciousness that Jesus had of the Father. And this is the kingdom
into which we are all invited, or urged to come, and in some
cases dragged into. (Trinity News, vol. 49, no. 2, pp. 7-8)
When I did my doctorate in biblical studies at Boston University, my major professor was a saint of a man named Harrell Beck. Dr. Beck used to tell the story about how the King of Siam kept attack cats that patrolled the walls of his palace. Any invader that got by a guard ended up with a cat on his back, claws dug in and not letting go, till the man’s screams brought the guards. Being pulled into God’s reign, he would say, is sometime a bit like having a cat on your back digging in until you give in.
I resisted mightily and for some time God’s pull to the ordained ministry. I wanted to remain in the field of animal science. God won and dragged me into it and the blessing was that I was able to employ my animal science as well as being called to the ordained ministry.
Whether we happen upon the kingdom of heaven serendipitously, or by being an active seeker or being dragged into it…once there, if it has truly arrived for us, we must be willing to give all for it and to live it totally every day of our lives. When “Christ’s consciousness” is real for us then we truly know with St. Paul that “all things work together for good for those who love God.”
“Have you understood all this” Jesus asked the disciples. And, they said ‘yes’. If we say ‘yes’ with them, then we are responsible not just for holding the treasure, but sharing it, helping others discover it for their own lives. It is treasure that is both old and new: the old being Scripture and traditions, and being good Anglicans we would add Reason, and the new being made new creations in Christ and living lives of Christ-filled love in the here and now.