Six Parables from Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
July 26, 2020 via Zoom

Chapel by the Sea, WA The Rev. Dr. Flatley

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

31 He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it 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.’

33 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.’

44 ‘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.

45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

47 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51 ‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ 52And 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.’

Six Minute Sermon by the The Rev. Dr. Linda Flatley

In this short passage we have six, count them six parables: the parable of the mustard seed, the yeast hidden in the flour, the treasure hidden in a field, the merchant searching for the perfect pearl, the dragnet of fish and the master of the household bring out treasure that is old and new.

We could spend the next six weeks unpacking these parables but next week we must get on with our Vital Congregations Initiative, so today will be our last foray into the Gospel of  Matthew for a while.  

So why does the writer of Matthew present so many parables in one chapter?  

Let me read from Psalm 78.

Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
   incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
   I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
   that our ancestors have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children;
   we will tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
   and the wonders that he has done.

Remember one of the characteristics of Matthew: showing that Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.  Here is this chapter the writer is presenting Jesus as the parable teller as foretold in Psalm 78.   Again these parables are more about the realm of God or the kin-dom of God than they are about the church.  

One other important point here is that Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous and the Greek word translated as kingdom is basiliea which means empire. Basilea is a very political term used by Jesus to refer to the political system of his day under Roman occupation. The realm of God or God’s way of reigning, the rule of God are all phrases to translate the empire of God or the new Kin-dom of God is a more apt translation for us today.

These parables are meant for the ears of Jesus’ disciples, those who are to carry the good news of God’s love to the ends of the earth and back again. God’s realm according to these parables is about abundance and extravagance.  Take the mustard seed, it’s not actually the smallest of all seeds and it doesn’t grow into a tree either but in Palestine starting in the spring you see the yellow flowers of mustard all over the Galilean hillsides.  Kind of like the Scotch broom here – a weed!  The realm of God spreads like yeast in dough hidden at first but active.  This parable engaged the women who were among his disciples. Three measures of flour was an extravagance of about 50 pounds equal to two of those Big Costco bags.  Such a large amount of flour would make about 150 loaves.  Now yeast in Jesus day was a starter dough and when left too long it would go bad. Leaven was usually associated with evil and a corrupting agent.  Jesus warned to beware the leaven of the Pharisees: their hypocrisy.  Before the Passover all leaven would be cleared out of the house and burned lest it corrupt the unleavened bread.   These two visuals for God’s commonwealth teach us that Jesus is here, and even present in small ways and hidden places but nevertheless God’s kin-dom will grow to be like a huge grown tree where all people will find shelter  and an ever-expanding amount of risen dough where no-one will go hungry.     

The next two parables are about the value of God’s realm. The finder of the treasure sold all he had to buy the field.  In God’s economy something is required of us – buy in!  It’s not a case of just finding long-lost treasure, only pirates bury their treasure.  As finders of the treasure we have in Christ, we are to claim it, own it, keep it, enjoy it.  Finding God’s kin-dom is like the merchant seeking fine pearls. Pearls were the equivalent of diamonds today.  The merchant finds one of great value. Jesus teaches that those who seek will find. So some will find God by accident and others will find God because they are seeking.  

The fifth parable is like a huge net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.  There is diversity to God’s realm: different colors, shapes and sizes, like the diversity of humanity. In God’s realm all are welcomed in.  In last week’s parable the  wheat and tares grew together, here all the fish swim in the same ocean.  Again, we have the weeping and gnashing of teeth when God sorts us out.  Again the warning is for us Jesus’ followers.  We are not secretly smirking at their misfortune and glad they are being burned.  The warning is for us! No Schadenfreude that’s unbiblical.

Finally, as your scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven this pastor bring out of her treasure what is new and what is old.  Let me close with this parable: The kin-dom of God is like a preacher; who preached every Sunday via Zoom to a congregation of 25 participants in a world of 7 billion people.  The preacher kept on preaching until the whole world believed the gospel.  Amen.

God we thank you for Jesus teaching that stirs our imaginations today.
When your presence is hidden strengthen our faith that we may be confident of
your care for us.  We thank you for every sign of your truth and love in Jesus Christ