Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like a microscopic virus that, once set loose, makes its way throughout nations and peoples, tirelessly and explosively, forever changing previous ways of life.
Too soon? That’s pretty much what Jesus is saying—at least in the first two parables. You see, mustard was illegal for the Jewish people to plant. It flew in the face of the orderly design the Jewish people considered God’s plan in the midst of the chaos and disorder of the world. That one little seed would grow an ugly, unmanageable bush that would corrupt the whole field—and probably neighboring fields—kind of like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind.
Leaven—the way in which we use yeast for bread—was also considered a corruption, a mystery to which only women knew the secret. It was believed that their oversight of bread-making would include hiding leaven within the dough, causing it to rise mysteriously. And even a little leaven would change the nature of the whole batch—even 60 pounds of flour, as pointed out by Jesus’ parable.
Like corruption—like a virus—just a miniscule amount can effect everything that comes near it. But this how the kingdom works. It can infect everything it touches. It can go viral. It can leaven everyone who gets near it. It can grow into something absolutely unmanageable—wild and disheveled, providing nooks and crannies for a myriad of wildlife to find refuge in the storm, but not something to be cultivated or controlled.
The kingdom of heaven is like the promise of equitable treatment, pay, and rights being just beyond reach. When those who lack it see how close it is, they will sacrifice all they have—safety, family, friends, employment, and even life itself—to obtain it for themselves and future generations.
We see this in parades and protests, videos and blogs. People of color challenging assumptions about who they are and what they are about. People in the LGBTQ spectrum challenging accusations of immorality and lack of faith. All of them putting themselves and their wellbeing at risk so that those who come after them might have what they still do not. Respect. Recognition. That which is an assumption for those of us with privileges but what is essential and precious for those who are not afforded it.
This is what the kingdom of heaven is like—a priceless treasure worth even one’s own life in order to hold it in one’s heart. Or, perhaps, worth the life of one who loves us more than we can even love ourselves.
The kingdom of heaven is like a nation seeking to establish peace through war, power, military might, high walls, federal agents, imprisonment, punishment, and fear; and on discovering how compassion, assistance, interdependence, and support establishes a stronger foundation for peace, that nation changes its ways and develops international cooperation and support.
The kingdom of heaven is like one who collects and hoards and holds onto the various treasures of this world that eventually rot and rust and fade into the past. When that one, in search of more in order to feel whole, finally discovers their own worth is far more precious than the things they have, will give it all up in order to focus on the quality of their life rather than the quantity of their things.
Like one in search of fine pearls, when one finds the pearl that surpasses all others, that one will give up the search and use all the capital to invest in the pearl or the peace or the wholeness that proves itself instead of the many things that only barely pass for the real thing. The things that we often seek out and put our trust in will never bring about what we hope for. Our security is not settled by amassing an arsenal in our home. It is brought about by meeting the needs of those who would otherwise turn to violence in order to obtain it. Our soul is not made whole by sentimental collecting of those things and memories and ways that hearken to a time we remember as rosier than reality. Our soul is made whole through the real presence of love for one another and those in our midst.
The kingdom of heaven is like inviting people to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. And some days we will embrace the message and its bearer, and some days we will find it goes too far and will return to the world where we contribute to the weeping and gnashing of teeth because we don’t want the good news to be true for those we don’t accept.
Whether comparing it to the corruption of a mustard bush or the seeking of what we assume is valuable, the stories Jesus uses to describe the kingdom are supposed to be subversive, edgy, and a bit scandalous. It’s like saying, the kingdom of heaven is like a microscopic virus that, once set loose, makes its way throughout nations and peoples, tirelessly and explosively, forever changing previous ways of life.
Instead of thinking of the kingdom as some far-off place we go when we die, what if saw the kingdom the way Jesus describes it? It impacts our lives here and now. Like a virus, we can only take so many precautions. If we aren’t super careful—masks over noses, sanitizer within reach, wipes and bleach and disinfectant at every table—we just might catch it.
If we aren’t super careful—maintaining emotional distance from each other, sanitizing our love with platitudes, looking to bleach diversity so that everything and everyone is washed out, disinfecting all that is different so that everyone is as pure and holy as ‘we’ are—we just might catch the kingdom. If we don’t protect ourselves from the leaven mysteriously hidden in the flour, we may just rise up against injustice and speak out against corruption.
If we aren’t careful, we might just plant a seed of chaos with the sole purpose of offering shelter to those in need. If we don’t watch where we’re going, we just might stumble over the treasure of the good news and be compelled to let go of everything else we used to value in order to hold tightly to it. If we aren’t savvy, we may just invest our whole lives, the whole church, into mission and service and lose focus on taking care of ourselves.
If we don’t shield ourselves, we may just get caught in our own net and find ourselves hauled into the bold proclamation of Christ and the cross and lose ourselves in the message of good news meant for the whole world.
So, take care. Protect yourself from the salacious news of Christ. Because if we’re not careful, it will go viral, capturing everyone in its path and drawing us all into abundant life. And we all know what will mean—life will never be the same.
Well, maybe that’s what you want. But the rest of us are going to protect ourselves from that kind of chaos. After all, you know as well as I do that no one likes change. J (Let the reader hear the sarcasm.)
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church