Lectionary Reflection—30 July 2017
He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in a field. 32It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”
33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.
45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. 46When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.
47“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that people threw into the lake and gathered all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, they pulled it to the shore, where they sat down and put the good fish together into containers. But the bad fish they threw away. 49That’s the way it will be at the end of the present age. The angels will go out and separate the evil people from the righteous people, 50and will throw the evil ones into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth.
51“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
They said to him, “Yes.”
52Then he said to them, “Therefore, every legal expert who has been trained as a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings old and new things out of their treasure chest.”
The Gospel Lectionary Reading today contains five stories about God’s Realm. In all, “Matthew” collects seven stories about God’s Realm in this chapter. I think this might be important!
Seriously, though, we don’t really hear a lot about God’s Realm (the Kingdom of heaven/God), at least not in the Western church. Here in the Southern States, specifically, we mostly hear about “being saved.” But that doesn’t seem to be Jesus’ focus during his ministry. In fact, just in Matthew alone, “kingdom of heaven/God” is mentioned over thirty times, whereas “saved” or “rescued” is mentioned less than ten times. So what gives?1
First, notice that Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” He’s not telling us what it’s not like but what God’s Realm is really like. In every one of these stories, God’s Realm isn’t something that happens at the end of history; it’s hidden within creation right now.
In another place, when Jesus was asked, “When will the kingdom of God come?” he plainly said, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ No. The Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke 13.20-21; NLT2; adapted). The Greek word translated “among” is ἐντός (entos) and is found only twice in the New Testament—here and in Matthew 23.26. The word ἐντός means “within or inside.” So, a better translation of Luke 13 would be, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
This shows us that, like the stories in the Lectionary reading, God’s Realm isn’t like other kingdoms. That is, it doesn’t have the same type of structure, power, or authority. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom’s not of this world” (John 18.36; NKJV;3 adapted). And it’s right here where some of us miss the point. When Jesus said God’s Realm isn’t of this world, he meant that it’s not the same type of kingdom as other kingdoms. Another translation states, “My kingdom isn’t from this world” (NRSV;4 adapted). Another one states it even clearer, “My kingship doesn’t derive its authority from this world’s order of things” (CJB;5 adapted).
While Jesus’ kingdom is not like other kingdoms of this world—it’s not made up of the same “stuff” or in the same way—it’s definitely for this world. Jesus told the disciples:
“You know how the non-Jewish rulers wield their power over their people, and those in high positions act as tyrants over them. 43But it’s not so among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first among you will be a slave to all. 45For even the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10.42-44; CSB;6 adapted).
In other words, there’s a way of “doing” kingdom—of ruling and reigning—but like other things in our world, we’ve mucked it up. Real power and authority, Jesus tells us, is to become servants of all. And this type of kingdom, this type of ruling and reigning is hidden within. That is, we know deep in our being that the best way to be human is to serve others.
And that knowledge, that deep sense of reality, is God’s Realm, buried within us. All of Jesus’ stories about God’s Realm tell us this. God’s Realm isn’t a physical kingdom like all of the other kingdoms of the world. It’s a kingdom hidden in plain sight. It’s buried treasure, hidden in a field, that costs us everything to find it.
Jesus message is simply this: God’s Realm isn’t coming.
God’s Realm is here.
In our midst.
Within the very heart of all creation.
Within the heart of every person.
And it’s not dormant.
God’s Realm is slowly spreading throughout the whole universe.
And may it start with me.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. You know, looking into this change of message is really too long for this post and is best put off for another day. But I’ll say this: I’m becoming more and more convinced that most passages about “being saved” or “rescued” in the New Testament have more to do with rescuing the followers of The Way of Jesus from Jewish and Roman persecution in the first century than they do about “going to heaven when you die.”
2. Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
3. Scripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®, copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
4. Scripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5. Scripture quotations marked (CJB) are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.
6. Scripture quotations marked (CSB) are taken from the Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.