Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
An advisor to Pope Francis approached him with great excitement. “Your Holiness, I have some very good news and some very bad news”, he says.
“My son, I’ve had a hard day. Please give me the good news first to cushion the bad news.” The Pontiff requests.
“Your Holiness, I just received a phone call from Jesus, and he has returned to Earth to bring The Kingdom of God!”
“Glorious! Glorious!” Shouts the Pope. “”It’s finally the day we’ve waited for millennia! Now what bad news could possibly dampen that good news?”
“Well your Holiness, he was calling from Salt Lake City….”
This pandemic has illustrated the devastating effect an invisible force can have on us as individuals, as a community, as a species even. I wonder if some of the resistance people have to mask-wearing and the like is in some part due to the disbelief that something naked to the eye can really be such a destructive force worthy of consuming all our attention and resources.
Counter-Images to COVID
In our gospel today, we are given counter-images to destructive forces like COVID present in a broken creation. We are given images of the Kingdom of God. A few quick words about this term: In the gospels, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is pretty much used synonymously with ‘Kingdom of God,’ that is, they’re getting at the same thing. I know that some cringe over the use of the term ‘kingdom’ which can conjure up images of kings, fiefdom, slavery, and even colonialism. I’m sensitive to that, but at the same time I think the term can still be helpful for us today, especially if we recognize that when it is being used in the gospels, it is not referring so much to a physical place as it is pointing to another realm or perceiving another reality.
The Kingdom of God is not something that exists up in the sky in the form of gold-paved streets and ornate castles, the Kingdom of God is a reality that exists alongside, within, below and above, this one. Christians claim that Jesus broke the veil between these two realms, and he is helping us to see the ways in which God opens our hearts and minds to see God’s light and love. This is, at least in part, what Jesus means when he says the Kingdom is here.
If that sounds confusing to you, you are not alone, I’m sure it was confusing to his original audience as well. I think Jesus uses a plethora of images in today’s teaching to try to approach this mystery from several different angles. We might notice that the people in the parables represent folks from various socio-economic classes: a sower of seed, a woman baking bread, a fortune seeker, a merchant, a commercial fisher, and even a scribe. It is a fairly diverse group of people doing their ordinary tasks and jobs, which gets Jesus’ audience thinking about how God is at work in the ordinary tasks of our days.
A Quick Peak at the Parables
The first two parables, that of the mustard seed and the yeast, speak to the power of the almost invisible to transform its surroundings. The mustard seed grows into a shrub large enough to support life as birds make their nests in it. This image recalls an earlier teaching of Jesus where he reminds us how God cares for the birds of the air and provides their every need. Every provision, every sip of water, morsel of food, or instance of shelter, is a blessing from God and a sign of God’s presence with us. The yeast image anticipates the story of the feeding of the multitudes with the loaves and fishes: God can use even a modest offering to do miraculous things. Yeast slowly but persistently works its way through the bread to lift and enliven the loaf – so the Kingdom of God brings life and sustenance to God’s children.
The next pair of parables, that of the treasure hidden in a field and the precious pearl, speak to the extravagant richness and value of the Kingdom. The Kingdom may appear hidden, but when it is revealed, it fills us with such joy that we are to enthusiastically plunge our entire selves into its pursuit. We are reminded of the times in the gospels where Jesus calls would-be followers to sell everything to follow him wholeheartedly and unimpeded by attachments to material things. Finding God is of more value than all the riches of the world.
The parable of the net combines with last week’s parable, that of the wheat & weeds, to bookend this list of parables. Both remind Jesus’ hearers that one day Christ will remove evil completely, and that we are safe in the just Judge’s care.
Which Images Resonate with You?
Which of these images speak to you today? What thoughts or feelings arise in your heart and mind in reflecting about these ways of talking about the Kingdom of God? There’s a lot to these parables, but for me there is one thing about them that strikes me today. In one way or another, these parables speak to the mystery of the Kingdom of God and remind me not to lose my sense of wonder when contemplating the ways of God.
We all have different personalities, we come from different families and cultures. Some of us lead with our hearts, others our heads. Some are extraverts, others introverts. Some of us express ourselves in big and obvious ways, others are more subtle, or perhaps even emotionally repressed. Some find God at the end of a long search, others seem to stumble across the divine accidently. Some of us wonder at the mysteries of the cosmos, others seek to find a solution to every problem.
Bell & our Wonder-filled Lives
While making room for our limitless diversity, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our wonder at the mystery of God and how God works in our world. I know I am guilty of this because when I encounter someone who is in genuine awe of the universe, it inspires and energizes me. One of these people is a favourite author of mine named Rob Bell. I heard him at a preaching conference a few years back and he shared about how he tries to keep a camera with him for when he finds something incredible in his day. You know, those incredible things like baby ducks crossing the road, tiny infant feet, mind-blowing chocolate, acts of random kindness, yeast that makes bread rise, and plants that have no business growing where they find themselves.
In his book, “What we Talk about when we Talk about God,” Bell talks about experiences where we suddenly become aware that there’s more going on than meets the eye. Moments when an object or gesture or word event is what it is, and yet points beyond itself. So often simple, little things, but things that make us go ‘ahhhh…’ Bell notes that the ancient Hebrews had a way of talking about these experiences…
“They believed that everything you and I know to be everything that is, exists because of an explosive, expansive, surprising, creative energy that surges through all things, holding everything all together and giving the universe its life and depth and fullness. They call this cosmic electricity, this expressed power, this divine energy the ruach of God….
“The question, then, the art, the task, the search, the challenge, the invitation is for you and me to become more and more the kind of people who are aware of the divine presence, attuned to the ruach,present to the depths of each and every moment, seeing God in more and more and more people, places, and events, each and every day.”
Perceiving the Ruach
Can you see this divine energy at work in your life? Can you see it in growing tomatoes, enjoying a delicious meal or an exceptionally cold and refreshing glass of water? Can you see ruach as you behold the landscape from atop the escarpment, or as you hold the hand of a loved one in tears? Can you see God’s light in the eyes of the cashier who serves you, or in the smell of freshly baked bread? Do you wonder at these things?
Can you wonder at life’s mysteries and discern the Spirit of God at work in and through these wonders? Today I think our gospel reminds that we ought to retrieve some holy wonder in the Church. We need the eyes to see the sacred in the everyday, in the bread and yeast, seeds and harvests, treasures and blessings, so that we might be inspired to love more profoundly and be energized to lean into beingthe divine miracles that we are.
Bell adds, “It’s all—let’s use a very specific word here—miraculous. You, me, love, quarks, sex, chocolate, the speed of light—it’s all miraculous, and it always has been.”
Children of God, Easter people, let’s discern the miraculous. Let’s be the miracles, the wonder-filled creatures God sees and loves, treasures, both old and new, trained for the kingdom. And then let’s see what we might do to the world around us?