A sermon based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52July 24, 2011
Today’s gospel reading is a collection of five parables that describe the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew uses the phrase “Kingdom of heaven” while the other gospels use the term “kingdom of God.” They both refer to God’s kingdom; the realm where God reigns and God’s will is done. Jesus often uses parables to teach his followers what God’s Kingdom is like.
Let’s start with the first two parables – that of the mustard seed and the yeast. On first glance, the meaning of these parables seems to be that out of something tiny something large grows – and that is definitely true about the Kingdom of God. We can see the way this has played out in Christian history – the Jesus movement started with a few followers of Christ, then spread to hundreds, then thousands – and today there are Christians all over the world.
On second glance, these parables have a few other things to teach us as well. The mustard plant grows into a bush, not a tree. If you wanted an image of a grand tree that provides shelter for many birds you would think of a cedar, not a mustard bush. To say that mustard is the greatest of shrubs and grows into a great tree is hyperbole. In fact, mustard was often viewed as more of a weed. Instead of using a noble tree like the cedar to symbolize the Kingdom of God – Jesus uses a pesky weed. What could this mean? This parable teaches us that God’s Kingdom grows where it wants to, that God’s Kingdom might not be what we would have planned for but it becomes great and mighty beyond all expectations.
In Jesus’ day, yeast didn't come in little packets at the supermarket like they do today. Yeast was actually leaven, which is a moldy piece of bread or dough. This leaven was mixed into the next batch of bread to make it rise, and a piece of the new batch would be saved to become the leaven for a later batch. Leaven was often viewed negatively as a sign of corruption, something that mysteriously changes from within. In this parable, Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is something that changes us from within, and it has the power to change us completely.
Both the mustard and leaven parables teach us that the Kingdom of Heaven becomes present in ways that are unexpected and even scandalous by worldly standards - we see this also shown by Jesus in his death on the cross. It was unexpected for the Messiah to die such a scandalous and painful death, but it was the means by which God choose to achieve redemption.
The next two parables are related – that of the hidden treasure and that of the fine pearl. In both parables, someone sells everything that they have in order to obtain the desired good. At first glance, these parables teach us that the Kingdom of Heaven is more valuable than anything else in our lives.
Treasure is an important metaphor in Matthew’s gospel, it refers to one’s ultimate allegiance. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (6.19-21; also 12:35; 19:21) The kingdom of heaven should be like treasure, the place where your heart is fixated.