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A sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 What we have in the gospel lesson today are 5 short parables that Jesus told his disciples to teach them about the kingdom of heaven.

July 31, 20237 min read

A sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

What we have in the gospel lesson today are 5 short parables that Jesus told his disciples to teach them about the kingdom of heaven.

Before going over these parables, let us briefly review what parables are so we know what to do with them. Parables are riddles in the form of stories. As such they are designed to excite our imagination, to make us be curious, adventurous, experiment, and explore. Some parables are easy to understand. Others are like puzzles and are not easy to figure out.

I also want to clarify what the phrase “kingdom of heaven” means. The popular understanding of the kingdom of heaven is that it is a place, normally up beyond the skies where God sits on a throne and looks down on earth. Additionally, we associate “kingdom of heaven” with images of divine power, glory, grandeur, and mostly manifested in shiny, gleamy, glittery, flashy and showy. In contrast, Jesus' usage of this phrase is usually in terms of God’s authority, power, or presence revealed in tiny, plain and common occurrences such as healing, forgiving, loving, faith, good news to the poor, small cup of cold water, new life, salvation, justice, peace and mercy.

Let us now look at these 5 parables: First, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a small mustard seed, which when planted in the ground, grows into a big tree and birds make their nest in it. One thing we know about the mustard plant in Jesus' time is that it is more like a weed and gardeners do not voluntarily sow it in their gardens because they are invasive and can easily over power and destroy other desirable plants.

Jesus' hearers must have been surprised that he compares the kingdom of heaven to an unwanted plant. In our time and place, I imagine that the equivalent of a mustard plant is the tangan-tangan, an ordinary looking tree that just grows wild. If I were telling a parable about the kingdom of heaven, I would liken it to an IFIT tree, the queen of trees in the Marianas. Ifit trees are very useful in building houses and making furniture. Yet Jesus uses an insignificant mustard plant. I can only imagine that Jesus wants to tell us that God’s presence is not as attractive or desirable like the magnificent Ifit tree, but it is organically in our midst, it creeps and grows uncontrollably, providing hospitality to those who would shelter under its protection.

Secondly, Jesus tells his disciples to imagine the kingdom of heaven as a yeast that a woman mixed in a flour causing the dough to rise. Just like the yeast expands and transforms the dough resulting into a soft, fluffy and yummy bread to eat so Jesus is saying that God’s presence has the same effect if we let it penetrate and infuse our life: we will be enriched, stretched and transformed making our relationships, our neighborhoods, churches, and the world more meaningful, beautiful and interesting.

Then Jesus invites his disciples to think of the kingdom of heaven as a hidden treasure that someone found and out of joy he sells all he has in order to buy the field where he found the treasure. Similarly, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a seeker of fine pearls, and when he finds a pearl of great value, sells everything in order to buy the pearl. Which tells us that our relationship with God is so precious, valuable, desirable and brings deep and compelling joy enabling us to surrender our life to God.

Finally, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a net thrown into the sea that caught all kinds of fish. I love this image of the kingdom of heaven because it tells us that the salvation God offers is open for all.

Parable of the Mustard Seed

To summarize, these are what we learn about the kingdom of heaven:

From the mustard seed and the yeast, God’s work or presence among us may appear small, insignificant, undesirable, and plain. In short, we can easily overlook the divine presence in our midst especially if we are looking for God in the flashy, loud, big, and bombastic. I know people who look for God in these places and have given up thinking God is absent and does not care. These parables assure us that God is here and can be trusted, silently working under the radar, transforming and accomplishing God's purposes in unassuming ways. Just like in many of his teachings, Jesus is subverting our ideas of God, inviting us to catch God in action in the tiny, humble and ordinary.

From the hidden treasure and seeker of fine pearls, Jesus invites us to find tremendous joy, purpose, meaning and contentment in our relationship with God. This is in contrast to popular culture that encourages us to look for happiness in wealth, success, drugs, fame, sex and power.

From the dragnet we learn that the kingdom of heaven is inclusive and nondiscriminatory, welcoming the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. But just like the parable of the wheat and the weeds, a time of sorting will come, and the good will be kept but the bad will be cast away.

Overall, the message that stood out to me from these parables is to train our eyes to seek God not so much in the big and flashy and powerful, but in the humble and odd. Which is why I have been thinking of my encounter with a woman in the intersection along Marine Corps Drive near Micronesia Mall the other day. I was stuck in traffic, and I noticed a woman panhandling in the intersection. She looked frail, smiling shyly at the drivers. She communicated her desire through her sorrowful, pleading eyes. I was praying that the light would turn green before she approached me. But the light remained red. When she came near, I avoided her eyes so she retreated. As I looked at her retreating figure, it dawned on me that her frame and silhouette looked familiar. Then I remembered. A few years ago, I encountered her in the intersection in Harmon, also panhandling. She was very pregnant then. I parked my car and went to talk to her. I told her I would buy her food at the nearby King’s restaurant. She said she was with her husband and child and they had been sleeping in their car. I asked if they could follow me to King’s. They did and I ordered them food. As that first encounter played in my mind, before the light turned red, I honked my horn to call her attention. She came and I gave her $20. To my surprise she said these words: “thank you, you are a badass.” I chuckled! What a way to show appreciation! As she walked away, I noticed a little bounce in her steps, and joy in my heart. I drove past her as she crossed the street. I stopped by Shell to get gas, wondering whether I misheard her response. I went into the shop to pay and when I stepped out of the door, I almost bumped into her. She thanked me again. I seized the moment to ask how she was doing. She said she is so tired standing, under the rain and sun and needed to rest. I asked how many kids she has now, and she said 6. Before I could shut my mouth, I heard myself say- "maybe it is a good idea to stop having babies." She said, "you should tell that to my husband."

Did I look into the eyes of God in this woman? I do not know. Did the woman encounter God with me? I do not know. The point I want to make is this: we can potentially meet God here and now, in the small and ordinary, and if this is so, we, though we are small, young, old, middle-aged and relatively insignificant, are potentially bringers and carriers of the kingdom of heaven and bringers of God’s presence to the people we encounter. Imagine what a church, neighborhood and world we have if we think of ourselves and other people this way. Here at St. John's, we have signs of the kingdom of heaven. I would compare the kingdom of heaven to Rachel who gathers people to a game or ice cream after church service. Or the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a woman helping an old widow seek justice. The kingdom of heaven is in you and me. Amen.

The Rev. Irene Egmalis-Maliaman
July 30, 2023

The Reverend Irene Irene Egmalis-Maliaman

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