Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 “To Seek”
A mustard seed; yeast mixed in flour; a hidden treasure; a pearl; good fish…the Kingdom of Heaven is like…
In this extraordinary series of parables, one right after another, Jesus is attempting to describe to the people what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and how it exists. He uses parables because he is trying to describe something that is still to come and already exists. He is trying to describe the invisible reality of the visible. He is trying to describe the infinite that is cloak as finite. What Jesus is trying to describe is so beyond human ability to fully grasp, so he uses simple parables to create a language that we can wrap our heads around, and help us to wrap our hands around. The Kingdom of Heaven is both beyond our ability to understand and, at the same time, right before us and within our grasp.
These last three weeks we have been studying just one chapter in the Book of Matthew, in which Jesus is creating a vision for his followers, for us, about what the hoped for and promised reality of God will be. Remember, when Jesus was teaching this to the people, this was an entirely new idea, it was a revolutionary idea. “What is now will not always be!” Jesus says. “Have hope, take courage, live in faith.” 2000 years ago this was an extraordinary lesson and promise. These people were persecuted and held down by Empire. These were people who were told by those who exercised power over them that their condition in life would be their conclusion and there was no other option. To hear a message of any other possibility was so new, so amazing, people could hardly begin to grasp it. And today, it is still an extraordinary lesson and promise. For us to hear, today in our world, that what is will not always be; to have hope, to take courage, to live in faith – we need to hear this just as much, if not more, than those to whom Jesus originally directed this lesson. Jesus taught the Kingdom of Heaven is within our grasp if we choose to seek it out. But, then that promise leads to an inevitable question: what is it that we are seeking?
To help us answer this question, let’s think together about how Jesus is describing the Kingdom of Heaven. He begins by describing it as a mustard seed or yeast, which means Jesus is describing a reality, that, no matter how small it might start as, when nurtured it grows into something tremendous. A mustard seed, a tiny little seed, when planted and cared for as it grows, can turn into a huge bush – one big enough to offer shelter for birds and animals, one that will keep growing and growing. And the same can be said for the yeast mixed into flour. A little bit of yeast, even when mixed in with three measures of flour – three measures of flour, by the way, is about 50 pounds – a little bit of yeast, when given the right conditions to thrive can create an abundance of risen bread. And bread equals life. So, Jesus is teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is something that already exists and when it is nurtured and allowed to grow unimpeded, it becomes abundant and life-giving.
But, Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is even more than that! It is a like a treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of great value and beauty – the Kingdom of Heaven, once it is recognized and realized, is something so extraordinary everyone will want to give up everything they have and know in order to devote their lives to it. Jesus says, not only is it something that calls us to give up all we have in order to be a part of it, but it is something that we can possess, something that we can have for ourselves. Something that we can grasp.
Finally, Jesus says, in the Kingdom of Heaven we will forever be able to separate out good from evil, and evil will be no more. Fear, prejudice, hatred, jealousy, grief – all of that will no longer be. Instead, we will have justice, love, peace, and kindness. Like fishermen who recognize the good fish from the bad, and only keep the good, the Kingdom of Heaven will no longer be a place where we have to make room for both.
You can see why Jesus needs parables: he is trying to describe the reality of God that may start small, but can grow in extraordinary ways when nurtured. And once it grows, its beauty and value are so amazing, we will all want to give up everything so we can have it. And once we have it, we will no longer know evil. The Kingdom of Heaven is the reality of God, a reality that God says is available to us, that God is calling us to exist in. And it is possible. It is not simply an idea, it can and will happen. To seek the Kingdom of Heaven, to make it real for all of Creation, that is what we are called to do as believers in God.
I have spent my week trying to image what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like once we finally grasp onto it, nurture it, and make it real. What would it be like? How would it feel? How would creation thrive? And, just like the parables, it feels like something I can’t quite imagine, but at the same time something, that if I could just focus my eyes right, I could finally see it.
I imagine a world where we all look at our neighbors and see a perfect reflection of God. I imagine a place where humanity and the natural world live in perfect harmony. I imagine a world where peace pervades. I imagine a world that is nothing more than the love of God made manifest. And, my Beloved Community, that imagining I am do is exercising my hope muscles. It is trying to move away from the fear and trauma of the days we are experiencing right now and instead working to live in hope and faith. Hope in God’s promise of the Kingdom and faith that that promise will be fulfilled.
I heard someone say very recently, that to hope is naïve. That hoping takes away from fully understanding and contending with our current reality. It broke my heart to hear someone say that. It broke my heart but at the same time, I’m sorry to say, it didn’t surprise me. I talked a few weeks ago about my struggle with our increasingly polarized and divided country, and I fear that for some hope is becoming one of the issues that people choose to stubbornly disagree on. But, we cannot let that happen. We cannot allow ourselves to argue about the value and importance of hope. We cannot allow ourselves to be afraid to say loudly and proudly that we have hope for the future, that we have hope that what is today, will not always be. That we have hope, because we are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry.
Throughout the Gospels we hear Jesus, over and over again, pointing people to the Kingdom of Heaven. And he doesn’t just talk about it, this is not just an idea or theory for him, it is the reality he was trying to live in. He reached out to those who were sick, touched them, showed them compassion, and in that compassion they found healing. He gathered with the masses of people, who were afraid that there would never be enough, but instead was able to show them that there is enough for all, that even just a few loaves of bread and fish, when shared freely, is actually enough. He calmed the storms and spoke against the Empire. He showed love for the tax collectors, and generosity towards women. He walked through the gates of Jerusalem unafraid to speak words of truth and peace to those in power. And when those same people were fearful of his message and killed him in order to silence him, God said his message of the Kingdom could not and would not be silenced. And the empty tomb was proof that the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven was far more powerful than fear or prejudice. Jesus lived his life in the Kingdom of Heaven, and as his followers we are called to do the same.
Jesus describes the Kingdom as something that we can grasp, something that might seem small now, but when nurtured it grows exponentially. The Kingdom is so amazing in beauty and extraordinary in value, that once we see it – we will give up everything to be a part of it. Everything that has held us back, everything that has kept us separated from one another, everything that is not of God. To imagine the Kingdom of Heaven is to hope. And to hope is to have faith. Jesus showed us what it means to live the Kingdom of Heaven into reality. Let us follow his example, let us see our neighbors as reflections of God. Let us nurture the life around us, and not destroy it. Let us speak words and do actions that are steeped in the love we have for God and neighbor and self. Let us share abundantly. Let us say we are not afraid but we are determined. Let us, my beloved community, seek the Kingdom of Heaven and in the act of that seeking we will make it real for all.
Let us pray:
Good and great God, your promise to us can at times seems so astonishing we wonder if it is possible. But, in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, we have seen that it is indeed possible. The promise of your Kingdom is your gift to us, a gift that we simply need to accept and share with wild abandon. For this gift, we give you great thanks.
As we pray that your Kingdom come, we pray for all of those who have given up hope. We pray for those who cannot see past the fear around them. We pray for those who have chosen to destroy life as opposed to nurture it. We pray for those whom even imaging your Kingdom seems beyond their grasp. Draw near to them, speak to them, show them grace and mercy, and in so doing give them hope.
God today we ask that you speak to us with your gentle but strong voice to help us see what is possible. Show us not just glimpses of your Kingdom, but a true vision of what can be, and then give us the courage to embrace it and make it real. We know that for this to happen we will have to lean heavily into your arms, we will have to rely on your presence and guidance, so we pray you will walk alongside us, illumining the path we are called to follow.We pray all of this for ourselves, our neighbors, and our world. And we pray this in the name of the one who you sent to show that it is possible, Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray together…Our Father…