Jesus continues to discuss God’s kingdom, God’s reign here on earth, in our reading today. His teaching is in the form of parables—those deceptively simple little stories or images that can turn our lives upside-down. Last week, I was trying to allow the parable of the weeds and the wheat to worm its way into my thought processes. With today’s reading, Jesus bombards us with all these images—a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure in a field, merchant finding a pearl of great price, a net full of fish.
It is almost as if after deep dives into the parables of the sower and the seed and the parable of the weeds and the wheat, Jesus wants to make sure we don’t think we have exhausted images of the kingdom. He branches out to professions other than farming—baking, sales, fishing, even treasure hunting. Look at the richness of these images—I can almost hear Jesus say. You can’t distill the kingdom, God’s action and vision enfleshed in this world, into just one thing. Look at the beautiful mosaic of creation, the wondrous diversity of all living things-- anything that reflects God is far from monolithic. Why should kingdom parables be any different?
How to approach such abundance? Do I try to do a paragraph or two on each? Do I choose one and do another deep dive? Or do I try something else? An experiment—with all of us as participants. We have five images here—maybe because in his wisdom Jesus knows that we are not made out of the same cloth. Some of us will be drawn to one, some to another. There is no hierarchy of this one is more important or special. They are all there for the taking. They each have something to tell us, probably more than one something.
In a minute, I’m going to divide us up into groups of three, and I want you to pick one of the images—mustard seed, yeast, treasure, pearl, net—and claim it for this week. Maybe you can share with your group why it spoke to you. But you will promise to each other, that you will spend time this week, letting your chosen image of God’s kingdom get inside of you—inside of your thoughts, inside of how you see what is happening in our world, inside of your very life.
I think that is how we become part of God’s kingdom, by deliberately making small steps, by intentionally placing images in front of our eyes, by giving room for God and God’s justice and God’s intention for our world and God’s call for how we are to speak and act and be in this world infuse every waking moment—from the time that we open our eyes in the morning, to the time that we slip into needed rest at the end of the day.
I will share part of my journey—since I started it a little bit before you. What drew me this week was the image of a pearl. Why? Maybe because it’s my birth gem. Maybe because I’ve always loved pearls. And I noticed that the image Jesus uses is really about the merchant who finds a pearl of great price—but that wasn’t what attracted me. It was the pearl itself.
I thought about how lustrous pearls are—how they have this beauty that just shines out from them. And I thought about how pearls are created. That they aren’t crushed together over eons the way diamonds are made. They don’t spring full-form from the water. They come into being because of a piece of grit, an irritant, something not quite right, inserting itself into that mollusk. And they don’t grow out there in the open. They are protected while they gradually become stronger and thicker and more beautiful.
Maybe the kingdom is like that… maybe it takes something not quite right to jar us into our growing phase. Maybe the kingdom doesn’t arrive fully-formed, coming down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband (my snarky nod to the vision of a new Jerusalem from the book of Revelation). Maybe the grit of our lives, and the lives of those around us, propel the creation of something new, something beautiful, something of God. It takes time, and some protective space, but it is of great value. It is something that we should want so much we would be willing to sell all we have to get it.
So what image will you choose?
How will Kingdom speak to you this week?
What will it propel us to be and do as God’s beloved community in this place, at this time?
I invite you to engage with one another for 10 minutes. Remember to introduce yourselves, pick an image that caught your fancy, share why if you so choose, and promise to one another to live with that image for this next week.
BREAKOUTs (ten minutes)
I just want to leave you with the next verse from the gospel of Matthew.
Jesus, after he has told all these kingdom parables, says to those gathered, “Have you understood all this?”
And what do you think they answered?
“Yes,” of course.
I’m left with the impression that Jesus had a smile on his lips, and a slight shake of his head, as he left that place—knowing that they and we have so much more to learn.
May God grant each of us a flash of insight, or a settling of opinion, or a burning desire for more, or the quiet of resting in God’s presence—for the kingdom contains them all.
And may God’s people say, Amen.