8 PENTECOST, PROPER XII - A - 17 MATTHEW 13. 31-33, 44-52
For the past two weeks, we have listened as Jesus has tried to describe what the kingdom of heaven is really like. Undoubtedly, he was asked that question many times.
It’s like seed that has been scattered on a variety of soils, He said. Some of it took root and produced good fruit, and some of it did not. It is like a field where good seed was intentionally sown, he said in another place, but somehow weeds took root and sprang up alongside the wheat. That is the way God intends for it to be until the harvest.
In today’s passage, he continues with illustrations putting word-pictures in the minds of his listeners. First, a mustard seed, tiny compared to other seeds common to his time, yet one that will grow beyond expectations.
What Jesus is saying is that kingdom of heaven was ushered in at his coming. However, no one took notice at first. Just twelve men were chosen to follow him. A small beginning to be sure, but great results occurred then, and have continued to occur over the centuries as God promised. How many disciples, for example, does Jesus have today?
And, what of leaven? How does it relate to Christ’ concept of God’s kingdom? How do we know, for example, when one has entered into the kingdom? Leaven is like an inward faith that naturally grows and manifests itself outwardly in word and deed. Entering the kingdom activates a force that transforms from within all those who receive it.
From the parables of seeds and growing, harvesting and reaping, Jesus moves to ones of discovery, not only discovery of the kingdom itself but of its value. In a way, these two parables allude to the endless variety of experiences by which individuals enter the kingdom.
To one it’s wonderful worth is suddenly, and it may seem, accidentally revealed; while to another it is only found after long years of searching. To discover it is one thing; to possess it is another. No little sacrifice is called for in order to have it. It must be prized above all else. Those who are immersed in worldliness never find it, nor do they ever realize the value of it. Like the treasure in the field, it remains hidden.
Following the parables of the mustard seed and leaven, Jesus reiterates the conclusion of last week’s parable of the wheat and tares by describing what will happen at the close of the age. This time he uses a “dragnet” to illustrate.
Again the angels will do the separating as in the wheat and tares and there will be “weeping” and the “gnashing” of teeth. “Have you understood all of this,” he asked, and they answered “yes.”
To end on such a dark note would be to send his listeners away with a frightful image of God’s kingdom would it not. However, he doesn’t end his teaching with that. Instead, he says that we, who have entered the kingdom already, through the waters of Holy Baptism, are to be like “scribes” who have been trained for the kingdom. What does he mean?
In Jesus’ day, a scribe was an expert in Mosaic Law. However, when he became a disciple of Jesus he was able to preserve past insights and enlarge them in light of Jesus’ teachings. The “old” things are the wisdom of the centuries, particularly the ancient stories and hopes of Israel. The gospel Jesus brings, and the gospel Matthew is concerned to tell us about, consists in bringing the two together.
From the law and prophets Matthew shows us how Jesus is the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel and the one through whom God is establishing the new Israel. We need to understand that his use of the “dragnet” is there to remind us that the coming of Jesus began the process of final judgment.
There is nothing we can do about that. The kingdom has come, is coming, and will come. What we can do is to be prepared for that day by doing what Jesus is telling us to do. So that when that day does come, we should not, as Paul says, fall back in fear, but rather rejoice at His appearing.
Jesus taught and lived the kingdom and as he did so, the world around him divided in two. There were those who were swept off their feet by him and those who resisted and rejected the gospel.
The same is true today and will be until the day when God will remake the whole world having eliminated the bad and the evil from the present one.
As they were in Jesus’ day, the parables in Matthew’s thirteenth chapter are a challenge to us at two levels: understanding and action. Understanding without action is static; action without understanding is exhaustive and useless.
As we ponder Jesus’ stories and think about what they meant then and mean now, we should, in light of the conclusion of today’s gospel, ask ourselves what it means to be a “scribe” trained for the kingdom of heaven?
Part of our training, if you will, is to be grounded in both the Old and New Testaments, for both are Holy with the new being the fulfillment of the old. This is not to say that all of us are called to be Biblical scholars.
However, as Christians, we need to be versed in the stories contained in both the Old and New Testaments that shed light on God’s kingdom, on its discovery, and especially the “door” through which all who choose to enter may enter, that is, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
For it is in Him we live and move and have our being, and it is in our thinking, our speaking and our living our lives to Him that we present ourselves to the world as “scribes” trained for the kingdom of heaven who bring out of their treasure what is new and what is old. AMEN+