A friend of mine is on a bicycle trip. Not just any bicycle trip. No, she is on a solo, around the world bicycle trip. At this very moment she is somewhere in Iran cycling her way to the Afghanistan border. A few months ago, she gave up her apartment, left her job, sold most of her things and left with her bike on her trip. If all goes well, and you can just imagine all the things that could go wrong, she should be back in about a year.
The kingdom of God is like a young woman who has a dream of cycling around the world. She gives up her home, quits her job, sells everything she has, gets on her bike and goes.
Jesus came to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, or as it’s put in Matthew’s gospel, the kingdom of heaven. That is the number one thing that Jesus came to do. He is a prophet of the Kingdom of God. But what is the kingdom of God? Jesus never gives us a definition. He never just tells us what the Kingdom of God is. Instead, he speaks in parables: The kingdom of God is like . . . a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure, a merchant in search of a pearl.
Why does Jesus speak about the Kingdom of God in parables? In part because the Kingdom of God is a mysterious, even elusive metaphor, something we can start to understand but never fully grasp.
But it’s also because parables, these brief stories, are meant not just to describe something, but they’re also meant to do something, to do something to us when we hear them. To evoke a feeling, to move us in some way. To help us to not only understand, but to have an experience of the Kingdom of God.
When I tell you that the kingdom of God is like my friend who leaves everything she has to go on a bike trip around the world, it moves me. It makes me feel a sense of longing, a yearning for something. I also feel the disruption, and I wonder if I could ever do such a thing, what it would take for me to leave everything and go. And I feel the danger, the insecurity of a young woman traveling alone on the backroads of Asia.
Today we’re going to tell parables. We’re going to invent some parables, we’re going to make up our own parables about the kingdom of God.
I think it will be easier for us if we use either the mustard seed and yeast parables, or the pearl and the treasure parables as a model.
Let me give you a little bit of context as a starting point.
In the parables of the treasure and of the merchant who seeks a pearl we get a sense of something of immense value, and the surprise and delight that is experienced when someone stumbles upon it. We get a sense of the single-mindedness of these people as they pursue their treasure, and we are struck by the awareness that it is totally disruptive to their lives.
How would you tell this parable? For me, maybe it would go as follows:
The kingdom of God is like a man sitting at his desk, who looks up and sees something amazing outside his window. When he sees it, he rips up his to do list, shreds everything in his in-box, dumps his computer and smart phone in the garbage and runs outside to find it.
That’s what the kingdom of God is like!
In the parables of the mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the field, or the yeast that the woman hid in a huge amount of flour, it helps to realize that in the culture of the time, these were contaminants. The mustard seed was a weed, something that you would normally try to keep out of your garden. The yeast was actually a clump of mold that was considered a contaminant. At least once a year Jewish people would make a huge effort to get rid of all the yeast in their home. So what we have in these parables is subversive, a tiny contaminant invading a field or tub of flour. Is there some sort of warning here? Or is it a promise? The tiny invader infiltrates the host, spreads and takes over. And, perhaps surprisingly, it turns out well. The mustard becomes a tree to which the birds come and nest. The yeast leavens the bread, enough for a great feast.
How would you tell that story? Well, how about this:
The kingdom of God is like a man who starts dancing by himself on a hillside. Maybe he’s a bit annoying or strange at first, but watch what happens!
[watch this video from the Sasquatch music festival 2009 – Guy starts dance party]
Did you feel something of the Kingdom of God watching that video?
Now it’s your turn. If someone asked you what the Kingdom of God is like, what story would you tell?
The kingdom of God is like …
Homily Yr A Proper 17 July 27 2017
Readings: Gen 29.15-28; Ps 105.1-11, 45b; Rom 8.26.39; Mt 13.31-33, 44-52
Image by Yair Aronshtam, Creative Commons