Pentecost 7 (A)
23 July 2017
Byron Bay & Broken Head
Today’s readings offer us another serve of Jesus as the master of the parable.
This is the second of three Sundays that we spend in Matthew 13.
The lectionary wants us to focus on just the one parable this week: both the earliest tradition with the core parable, and also the later tradition with its allegorical interpretation. In the first we discern the voice print of Jesus, in the latter we sense the calcification of the tradition as the challenge of the kingdom’s Prophet is domesticated into personal piety and good living.
In the process, the lectionary wants us to skip over two other brief parables that occur in between these two lengthy paragraphs. However, I propose to focus on all three parables and leave the interpretation or some other time.
The church has turned the parables into (safe) earthly stories with a (pietistic) heavenly message, but the art of the Storyteller from Nazareth was such that these stories still have power to challenge, provoke, and transform. Even after 2000 years.
The parables are not ‘nice’ stories for children in Sunday School or Scripture classes. Rather, we should think of them as theological booby traps thrown into our hearts by the Master Teacher, the Galilean Sage. These parables tease us. They stretch our minds. They open our hearts. They dare us to think differently about God, the world and ourselves.
These ‘inconvenient truths’ echo across the millennia despite the best efforts of the church to lower the voltage of the Jesus legacy so that our lives are less disrupted by the poetic wisdom of the Nazarene.
Three parables from the Master
Each of these parables draws on daily life in rural Palestine: one is from the field, another is from the garden, and the last from the house.
- In the first, a farmer sows his field—seemingly with more care than the farmer in the parable of The Sower that we had last week. In this there is no problem with seed falling on the pathway, among thistles, or in shallow soil. The planting process seems to have gone well, but then weeds come up—all over the place. There are so many weeds they cannot be pulled out without risking the crop. All is good says the farmer. Let them be until the harvest time.
- In the second parable, someone plants mustard seeds in the garden. That makes us much sense back then as planting nut grass in the blue couch lawn today. Once mustard gets into the garden it will never be eradicated. It is a pest. It gets out of control.
- A similar idea seems to be at work in the third parable, but with a twist. God’s reign, says Jesus, is like a woman who hides a tiny amount of yeast in a very large amount of flour. ‘Three measures’ does not mean ‘three cups’. It is more like three sacks. Around 100 litres of flour is permeated by this small amount of yeast. Yet yeast is something unclean for the Jewish audience.
Three seemingly simple stories.
But each of them confronts and subverts how we think of God.
Church is not a place where we need to hunt down those with different views and drive them from our midst. We are more like a paddock with crops and weeds growing side by side. Time will tell what has sprung from the good seed, and what has sprung from the bad seed. It is not our job include some while excluding others. All are welcome here.
Jesus says God is just like the feral mustard that runs amok in the garden. Once God gains a toe-hold in our lives there is no getting rid of her. God’s presence expands and multiplies and permeates and changes—everything.
God (says Jesus) is like the rotting yeast whose decay penetrates a huge quantity of flour. God’s reign will work its way through our lives, through our community, through our church, until—in the End—God is everywhere, and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. It cannot be stopped. It spreads everywhere.
Holy things for holy people, broken things for broken people
As the Priest calls us to the Table of Jesus we often hear these words:
The gifts of God for the people of God.
Holy things for holy people.
Broken things for broken people.
These words invite us to bring together two aspects of life that we often seek to keep apart: holiness and brokenness.
The parables mix these up and claim everything in life for God’s kingdom.
In our lives we live with brokenness and wholeness, side by side.
The people of God are broken people, and the broken people are the holy people.
Thanks be to God.