PostScript: Challenges of the kingdom
Five stories to make us think (Matthew 13.31-33,44-52).
There are five parables (stories) about the kingdom in this week’s reading which (unlike some others in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel) are not explained further. We are to make of them what we can. Remember that these stories were originally told to be heard, not to be read. Jesus uses images that people were meant to remember and go on thinking about.
Mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a merchant seeking pearls and a net – all these things illustrate ‘the kingdom of heaven’, says Jesus. The kingdom (or reign) of heaven (or God) is absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching. Yet it is in many ways a puzzling as well as a secret kingdom; certainly, it is quite unlike the modern constitutional monarchy in which our British readers live.
Mustard seed is tiny but grows into a big shrub, even a tree. Yeast works away unseen until the bread rises. The surprise in these stories is not what the seed and the yeast do, for they are both familiar. The surprise is in the parallel which Jesus draws with the kingdom of heaven. Do these stories challenge us not to discount small and apparently inconspicuous things – for God’s kingdom also has such small beginnings?
Those seeking pearls and treasure do not seem to want them for what they can buy. Indeed, it seems that they already have enough of the world’s resources, for they sell things in order to possess the pearls/treasure. It is the intrinsic value of having them which attracts. Do these stories challenge us to seek the kingdom of heaven for its own sake, and not for what it will bring for us – or even for others?
Recent events (such as the death of Congressman John Lewis who worked with him) have reminded me of Martin Luther King. In 2017 I heard a sermon in which the Archbishop of Cape Town referred to the dream that Martin Luther King Junior had for his country, and went on to describe his own dream of a world in which ’all the narcissistic, nationalist, isolationist ramblings of our current times will disappear’. Thabo Makgoba went on to invite that huge congregation to help him realise that dream. Can we all share such a dream of the kingdom? And what might we do to help bring it about?
Much ink has been spilled on the notion of God’s kingdom. Here are two points from leading modern writers on which we might usefully reflect:
- ‘Through Jesus’ life and teachings we see how the church came to understand that God’s kingship and power consist not in coercion but in God’s willingness to forgive and have mercy on us.’ (Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 2003, page 85).
- Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom is ‘about God’s sovereign, saving rule coming on earth as in heaven’; it is about rescue for the world not from the world. (Tom Wright. How God became King, 2012, page 242).
Jesus taught us to pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done.
Let us pray that in our lives God’s kingdom may come –
surprising like the mustard seed; and in secret like the yeast.
Let us pray that God’s kingdom may seem to us
as valuable as treasure or an expensive pearl.
Let us pray that we may be challenged, even in these strange times,
to be committed to our part in bringing in God’s kingdom,
now and always.
Use the Iona prayer response and chant: ‘Through our lives and by our prayers, your kingdom come’.
You may well not have a mustard seed to hand; but perhaps you have some other seed ready to plant in the garden; or maybe you can find a seed in an apple or an orange, in a cucumber or a tomato. Put it in your hand and reflect on how any seed may be a sign of God’s kingdom.
Find the most precious thing in your house and ask yourself what it is that makes it valuable to you, and in what ways God’s kingdom is more (or less) precious to you.
Dudley Coates is a Local Preacher in the Yeovil and Blackmore Vale Methodist Circuit and a former Vice President of the Methodist Conference.
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