Third in a three-part series: Parables – Stories that Read Us
July 30, 2017
(No video is available for this sermon.)
He put before them 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.” – Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
This is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God.
These are parables that read us. They teach God’s truth on many levels. How we hear them depends on the condition of our hearts. If we listen well, these stories change us. They define us as children of the kingdom of heaven. (Klyne Snodgrass, Stories With Intent, 332.)
Listening is a key component to receiving the parables of Jesus. You may have noticed that, for the past three weeks, we have not put the written words up on the screen for you to read along with the Gospel lesson. Jesus has not been saying, “those who have eyes, read along.” He says, “everyone who has ears, listen.”
In Matthew’s gospel, there is great significance placed on hearing the Word of the Lord. In this thirteenth chapter, Matthew uses the word “listen” fifteen times. “But he also uses the verb … “understand” six times. In Mark’s version of the parables, he asks us “Do you hear Jesus’ message?” But Matthew wants to know, “Do you really understand with your heart?”
Klyne Snodgrass writes, “Real hearing is hearing that leads to obedience, and we should not forget that the Hebrew verb for hearing (shama) is often translated in English as ‘obey.’ Snodgrass goes on to explain that “There are at least eight levels of hearing represented by the verb shama: hearing sound, understanding a language, understanding the intent, recognizing, summoning, … paying attention, agreeing with or believing, and obeying.” (Snodgrass, 170 and also footnote 145) As we hear these parables, then, we need to be careful not to let them go “in one ear and out the other.” They need to go deep into our hearts, where they can work on us and change us.
The other thing we need to remember as we hear these parables, is that they are stories of the present kingdom of heaven. Even when Jesus explains some elements in terms of the end of the age, he is referring to a kingdom that is already among us, already here in the person of Jesus Christ. This kingdom is in the present tense. It is currently active in our world, and it is growing. The kingdom of heaven is like weeds, yeast, buried treasure, pearls, a net. These everyday objects describe how the future reality of God’s reign is already evident in the present kingdom.
So let’s take a look at the short parables Jesus puts before us in today’s passage. Continue reading