The Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
Jesus put before the crowds another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: The Kingdom of heaven is like......
This is a recurring phrase throughout our reading from, the Gospel of Matthew this morning. It is also a recurring theme in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew places a lot of emphasis on "The Kingdom of Heaven."
Now, it is important to note that it doesn't say: "Heaven is like." There is a very real difference between our understanding, as Christians, of Heaven and how we are to understand "the Kingdom of Heaven."
"The Kingdom of Heaven" is a phrase that is closely associated with Jesus and his earthly ministry. It is a phrase that Matthew draws our attention to as he shows that Jesus uses, it on a regular basis, to describe God's Kingdom in its earthly state. It is a picture of how the Kingdom of God - our Christian world - should be operating in the world.
Now, Jesus was not saying that was how the world was. More often than not, whenever Jesus referred to the Kingdom of Heaven, he was comparing it to the way that the world actually was. So his illustrations were a way for him to highlight inequities. These inequities were generally in how much focus or emphasis people gave to the Lord in comparison to how they focused on their own concerns or desires. Were they concerned for their standing in society or were they focused on how their hearts were devoted to the Lord?
In the section of the Gospel of Matthew, we read this morning Jesus uses the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven five separate times with five different and distinct illustrations.
The commentators, I spent time with this week, challenged us, as preachers, to consider why Jesus did this. They encouraged us to think about why Jesus took the time to break up these illustrations into these short and dynamic summary statements. Then they said that we should take the time to examine them that way.
They also challenged us to try not to find the ways that the illustrations were similar. They stressed that, if we put all the illustrations together, if we sought somehow to blend them, the message that Jesus was trying to convey would be weakened or watered down.
As I listened to the commentators and read through the passage from Matthew I became aware that there is a sense in which Jesus is speaking directly to particular people in his audience who he knew would relate to one of the illustrations better than the others. That Jesus was attempting to reach particular people in particular ways.
The commentators pointed out that we should remember that if it was true in, Jesus' day and time, then it could / should also be true for us here and now.
I would be interested to know which illustration struck you most clearly this morning.
I wish we had the time, this morning, to have people look at the illustrations. Then, have them develop their response into a presentation that they could share with the rest of us.
I would like to ask each of you, or perhaps groups with similar ideas: "Why that illustration?
What does it say to you? How do you understand that it challenges or encourages you?
How would you share its impact and message with others who ask you about your faith and understanding of who Jesus is in your life?
What does it say to you about the Kingdom of Heaven and your role or part in the Kingdom of Heaven?"
We don't have time to do that this morning, but I would be really interested to know what people think and how they plan to apply this Gospel lesson this coming week and in the months to come.
I have to say it is interesting how this passage ends. This time we do not have the benefit of the disciples and the private conversation they might have had with Jesus after this encounter. In the section that we don't read, between 33 and 44, they do ask about the parable of the weeds, which Jesus takes some time to address, but then Jesus goes on with his illustrations.
It appears that he is now just speaking to the disciples. He starts out with the mustard seed parable, then he speaks about the yeast, then the treasure hidden in the field, then the parable of the fine pearl, and he concludes with the parable of the net. When he is done sharing these parables he doesn't expand on them or draw any conclusions.
In the end, we have this almost off-hand conclusion. Jesus finishes his Kingdom of Heaven parables - illustrations - and then says to his listeners: "Have you understood all this?"
And they respond: "YES!"
Jesus has basically, in a series of illustrations, pointed out that the Kingdom of Heaven has to be a priority. He is using relatively everyday illustrations to show that each of the people in his examples is given a choice. They must choose what is the most important thing in their life and be willing to commit everything to obtain that immeasurable treasure or that invaluable object.
When Jesus asks his listeners, the disciples, if they understand, they respond: "Yes."
Jesus doesn't challenge that response. After all the times the disciples have helped us to understand other passages, I am a little disappointed that they respond this way.
But then Jesus goes on to say to them: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
When I researched this it seems that most commentators believe that Jesus was encouraging the disciples to the role they should have, and will have in the future, to teach others from what they have learned from Jesus and the Old Testament Scriptures.
The scribes were the teachers of the time and it seems that Jesus is saying to the disciples that they are now teachers trained in the Kingdom of Heaven. That they will be expected to draw on the riches of their heritage - the Old Testament - and from his teaching. So they will have "old treasure" and "new treasure" to share with those they encounter.
As I conclude this morning I wonder what we would consider the treasure that we have discovered. How have we prioritized our lives so that "that thing we prize the most" has our focus and attention?
How ready are we to be the scribes of our time and generation? Are we as ready as the disciples were to answer "Yes" to the question: “Have you understood all this?”
"The Kingdom of Heaven is like........"
How would we answer the question "What is the kingdom of heaven like?"
Bishops & Father Mike