Sixth Century Icon of Christ, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai
What are these parables about? They keep coming at breakneck speed. Yes, we get it. Jesus knows lots of open ended wisdom stories about dudes with seeds, enemies who grow weed, men with pearls, and people who are ready to sell stuff and burn things. This week we have five parables. Count ‘em, one, two, three, four, five. Get your metaphorical thinking caps on. Make sure your allegorical seat belts are secure. In the event of the loss of meaning due to sudden metaphor collapse, masks will fall from the sanctuary ceiling. Please put your own on first before explaining any metaphors to those beside you. Are we ready!
My first question of the morning: Are parables the best way to do something? I can imagine that some people thought yes and some people thought no. The key to getting a parable is listening. And most people probably didn’t listen.
Do you remember the television show “Home Improvement”? It starred Tim Allen as “Tim the Tool Man” Taylor. Tim had his own local “home improvement” television show called “Tool Time”, sponsored by the Binford Tool Company. He and his trusty sidekick “Al”, would build things, repair things, and overhaul the most mundane of ordinary items. Can you put a 250 horsepower engine on a birdhouse? Yes, Tim would do it, often to disastrous consequences. The highlight of the show was Tim’s conversation with his wise, worldly, and well-traveled neighbor Wilson. Wilson lived over the back fence and was always partially obscured. You could only see his eyes. Wilson knew just the right thing to say to Tim. Tim didn’t often understand. In fact, Tim rarely understood on the first go. Tim’s usual reply to Wilson was this, “unh?” Depending on how confused or confounded he was, the longer the “unnnh?” became. The same reply was used when his wife Jill asked probing questions about anything. Tim, who added a chainsaw to the front of my car? “Unnh?”
I think a number of people, when then heard Jesus’ parable, often had Tim’s reaction.
They said, “Unnh?” Weeds? Tares? Who? What? Unnh?
After all, parables may not the best way to give directions. If I’m going away for the weekend and want to get someone to look after Ruby, would l get you to dog sit and then tell you her habits and needs by telling a parable?
Would I start off by saying, “the care of Ruby may best be compared to ….” No. I wouldn’t do that. I would come right out and say. She needs to be feed a cup of food twice a day.
So why, in the name of all that’s holy does Jesus teach in parables? Why do the Gospel writers tell us that at once, you can picture the disciples, with their pensive little faces looking at Jesus and in the next moment, they are lost, hands up, going, “Unnh?”
Why does he say parables are his preferred method of teaching?
1. First of all, the people around him, fisherman and farmers alike were used to listening to parables.
Parables and stories like Jesus taught, about wheat, fish, seeds and such had been around for centuries. They were like the dirty jokes that never seem to die. The ones people have been telling on front porches for years.
They were stories that everybody knew and everybody could relate to. Somebody knew somebody who owned a field. Somebody knew somebody who planted a mustard tree. Somebody knew somebody who had wheat and weeds in their field.
2. Jesus changed the emphasis ever so slightly from what people were used to hearing; so they would pay attention.
This is what confused some people.
This is what threw them for a loop.
Maybe they had missed the point all along.
Maybe they needed to go back and listen to him again.
Perhaps their priorities were all wrong.
They need to listen as closely as possible to what Jesus says.
3. What is Jesus saying in today’s parabolic litany?
The first thing Jesus is saying is the kingdom is worthwhile.
It is something of value. Despite conventional wisdom, i.e. the mustard seed shrub.
Most people would want to pull up the mustard seed shrub.
The mustard seed shrub is like kudzu. It is an out of control shrub that starts small, quickly takes over in areas where it is not wanted, and becomes impossible to manage for those in charge.
He says we’re that out of control weed (we are the weeds in this case), like the Kudzu, that is taking over slowly but surely, the big powerful Roman empire (both of then and now) and just when you think you’ve got us managed, you realize you can’t stop us, we’re everywhere.
Instead of the tiny seed becoming a mighty tree like the cedars of Lebanon, it becomes a lowly bush. This is not some tiny seed that grows up into a big tree. This is the image Jesus wants us to challenge with us this morning.
Make no doubt about it, Jesus is making a bit of joke here. The kingdom of God is like a pungent smelly bushy weed. The man is truly funny. But he is also letting the powers at be known while God’s reign seems small and insignificant; it would soon take over the world.
4) The next thing Jesus wants us to be thinking about is this: the Kingdom of God is worth going after. It’s worth searching for and seeking after.
If we operate from the premise that the Kingdom of God is all around us; what are we doing in here?
The kingdom of God is out there! The people we meet in the world we encounter, that’s the kingdom of God.
It’s worth the effort of leaving our comfort zones, our preconceived ideas, and hopes that God will fill this place up based on our own good looks and charm.
The benefit of putting ourselves out there, on the evangelical and kingdom of God line far outweigh any of the fears, drawbacks, or concerns we think we are holding onto.
What we’ll receive in return, whatever that is and whenever that is, will be immeasurable, when compared to the joy we think we know at this moment.
This is good but it can be so much better.
5) The last thing Jesus is trying to tell us in his retelling of these traditional stories is this: there is joy in the seeking, finding, and living in the kingdom of God.
While we are out searching for the kingdom, while we’re out discovering new aspects of God’s grace and love, it’s supposed to be a joyful activity. Joy is supposed to be at the heart of what we’re doing.
Look at how happy these people in parables are. Look at the elation in their lives. They are overcome with happiness at finding what they sought; which is the kingdom. Where is the joy in our lives? Do our lives reflect the joy which motivates the journey we are undertaking and the life we are living?
Are we willing to let go of the transient joy of this world for the limitless joy that Christ offers?