All readings for the Week
Genesis 29:15-28 with Psalm 105:1-11, 45b or
1 Kings 3:5-12 with Psalm 128 or Psalm 119:129-136
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
1. How do you think most of the people in our church pews hear these stories: do they take comfort, or offense?
2. How is this text good news for some, but perhaps not so much for others?
3. How do these images of Jesus conflict with our own images for God?
4. Where do you think the man’s joy came from, when he found the treasure: from greed, or something else?
5. Do we, like the disciples, “understand” indeed what Jesus is saying, what the message is for us today?
One of my favorite images from the Gospels is the little mustard seed in the parable that begins today’s reading of several parables in a row, followed by Jesus’ checking to make sure his disciples get what he’s saying. (It’s impressive how clueless the disciples are in the Gospel of Mark, but here, in Matthew’s Gospel, they brightly say they understand “all” of what Jesus has said.)
There’s a range of interpretation of these parables (not surprising, since they are parables, after all), beginning with the sweet image of the little tiny seed that grows into (we imagine) a mighty tree, with birds nesting in its branches. The image alone seems straightforward and lovely, and, like the disciples, we can say, “Yes” if someone asks us if we understand: the kingdom of God (so easily identified with the church, of course) begins small, with Jesus and a tiny band of disciples, and grows into a vast, worldwide church.
Even if it’s not identified strictly with the church, the kingdom is something big and powerful and mysterious in its growth. Mysterious, like the process of leavening, when something very small creates a huge batch of bread (enough, in this reading, to feed one hundred people!). Ordinary, homey images, everyday people and activities, things of nature…these are the tools Jesus employs to try to convey how he experiences God, how he hopes we might experience God. And we find them beautiful and encouraging and hopeful, even if we’ve never laid eyes on a mustard seed or baked a loaf of bread. We can tell Jesus that we, too, “get” the idea, that we understand what he’s talking about.
Consider that Jesus is saying these first two parables out in the open, outside a house, to a crowd, perhaps by the water but not in the heart of the city and certainly not in the sacred precincts of the Temple, the center of organized religion in his day and his culture. He doesn’t talk about the Holy of Holies or the religious festivals or the clergy of his time when he tries to lead the people to deeper relationship with God. He tells stories, and he waxes poetic when he says what the kingdom of heaven is “like.” Or, as Arland Hultgren writes, Jesus says that the kingdom isn’t so much like the objects themselves (mustard seed, treasure, leaven) but more like the actual process of what happens in these little stories, the mysterious and powerful things that happen right beneath our eyes, even if our eyes can’t seem to see what’s happening.
Reflection by Kate Huey. Read more at: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/weekly-seeds/weaving-the-future-1.html