Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kingdom Parables. Lectionary Notebook. Homily for Matthew 13:24-33

1st Posted July 17, 2011, 
Year A
(See TEXT below --  
Matthew 13:24-30)

The Gospel reading for today brings to us a continuation of Jesus' parable teachings, and his practice of offering his understanding of the Kingdom through these enigmatic statements. As such, these teachings come to us as riddles and mysteries. 

As we said last week, we could think of the parables of Jesus as descriptions of the coming and present Kingdom, which was being offered by the King himself -- Jesus the Messiah, but which one had to have a particular ear to hear.

Today, we have before us the riddle of the wheat and the weeds, the riddle of the mustard seed, and the riddle of yeast. The question for us seems very simple (although the answer is not): 
How do these ancient stories, which are case-specific offers of the Hebrew Kingdom to GOD's ancient people, how is all that to apply to we who live at the beginning of the 21st century; we who are so far removed in thought and language and custom from these original hearers?
Let us attempt to find an application for ourselves by thinking-through three statements:




Clearly, Jesus is a realist and not an idealist. And just as clearly he wants to prepare his would-be followers for the reality of Kingdom living. All this talk of the devil and enemies, therefore, lets his hearers understand that walking the Kingdom way is going to be very challenging indeed, and that this Kingdom living is done so among enemies and the reality of evil.

One way for us to think about the weeds in the wheat is to understand this as a metaphor for the human condition, by which I mean the common experiences we share as humans: The struggle for meaning, the common estrangement we feel with nature, with each other and even within ourselves, the problem of evil around us and in ourselves, and the common experience of death -- these challenges constitute life in the weeds.

No doubt, each of us thinks of ourselves as the wheat living among the weeds, believing that the weeds are somehow out there beyond us, that the weeds are somehow someone else, our enemy perhaps. But, in reality, we live-out steep internal contradictions, for our hearts contain both the wheat and the weeds. This truly is the human condition.

What I am saying to us is that, not only is there evil and estrangement in the world, there is evil and estrangement within our own hearts and behavior. I understand, of course, that we prefer "victory in Jesus" sermons, but what Christ actually offers is a daily cross and the grime of discipleship.

Following the Christ within the human condition is nothing but hard work, fitful starts and stops, small victories and bruising defeats. Of course, the are moments of intense joy and rejoicing, but these are most often experienced within the discipleship community that has just moments before sloughed through tragedy and sorrow.

Tough words to hear on a Sunday morning, I know, but this is that for which we signed on when we offered our allegiance to the Christ; this is the road we chose. It's a good road, but indeed a very narrow one.

The text tells about a mustard seed:

"It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants."
Jesus would have his hearers know that small beginnings do not dictate small endings, by which he means the fact that his Kingdom offer begins with few followers does not mean it will end that way.

In point of fact this view of reality has come true. What began with the seed of Christ's death and resurrection dramatically grew until the Roman empire was definitively conquered and Western civilization was profoundly shaped.

For us, we should remember that smallness or weakness does not necessarily constitute failure, just as largeness and strength does not necessarily constitute success. Or, said differently, the fact that the culture the faith and practice of Christians helped shape no longer sees value to what we bring to the table actually means very little to the work of the Kingdom.

The ebb and flow of cultural acceptance and rejection is quite meaningless. What really does matter in the end is how the community of faith actually behaves within its calling to follow the ways of the Christ as his community. How does this living, breathing community of people he started so long ago, who still name his name, practice his ways and teachings?

To answer this we must also ask just what a living practice of the Jesus-way by his flesh and blood community offers to the world -- this world at war with itself? What is offered is a stark contrast to the human condition. The Kingdom of Christ, if it is to be his Kingdom at all, brings to the world an alternative reality to estrangement and fear that otherwise rules the day.

Finally, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom
 "is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.”
I love this metaphor. Yeast, silent and unseen by the naked eye, works and infects the entire lump of dough. The Kingdom, small, unseen, ignored, touches the entire human experience.

Two things are at work here I think, both having to do with the Spirit of GOD let loose in the world.

First, the Spirit of GOD, the Spirit of the living Christ, works into the world the Kingdom of the Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who subtlety opens the Christ into the guts to of the world. Left to their own ways Jesus' followers could never bring Kingdom truth through Kingdom practice to reality, but the presence and power of the Spirit of the Christ is fermenting the world with a mustard seed smallness, changing weeds to wheat.

Second, the Spirit allows space to occur within the fracture and broken human condition so that conversations about truth and beauty can occur, so that truly human practices of sacrifice for the other can be seen, so that the ways of the Christ break-open in public for the watching world to see.

For example, think about the monastic practice of daily praying the hours. Some may see this work as a life-less prayer by rote, but what if what is actually occurring is the puncturing of the closed universe through prayer by GOD's community? What if, in reality, the daily prayers, while unseen by the majority, actually open to the world the yeast of GOD's presence? What if the Spirit is changing the world one prayer at a time, but we are unable to see it happening?  This is the yeast of the Spirit.

MATTHEW 13:24-30