Saturday, July 23, 2011

Parables : Proper 12 A

Mt.13:10Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”11He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.12For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.13The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’14With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.17Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.

This is the passage that comes after the sower and the seed parable that we had a couple of weeks ago. In the Gospel of Matthew it is used to explain why Jesus used parables to teach about God.

Jesus used parables to get us to think! It is like teachers who uses creative ways to get their students to engage the topics they are studying.

Now I think that the reason that  this little passage is not part of the readings is that it does sound a bit elitist. But I believe that there is something that is important about this little part of Matthew I read just now. Jesus used the parables to help his followers to grow, to challenge his followers to not just take the 'same-ole/same ole' way of studying God.

What does it mean to think of God’s realm? The kingdom of heaven? What was Jesus trying to do, anyway? A modern way of saying it is “Jesus was trying to help his followers think outside of the box when it came to understanding God’s work in the world.

These parables are not about the Church. These parables are not about going to heaven. These parables are about how to live more fully into the freedom of being God’s people for a people who were living in the captivity of Roman domination. The people of the Galilee had been tossed around as subjects of the great powers for almost 300 years. They lived under the real occupation of the Roman legions. It was hard to know what it meant to live as God’s chosen people in the midst of that hardship. And Jesus is trying to help a people live into that spiritual freedom without inciting insurrection because to teach the love of God means that people understand the radical freedom that God intends for them.

The first of the parables we have today is the story of the Mustard Seed. Now at first glance we could see this as Jesus lampooning the Isaiah passage about the great cedars of Lebanon, because the Mustard tree—which is a bush, a weed. more like it, that is somewhat like a tumbleweed here. But I don’t think that is what  is going on because all of these parables in this part of Matthew have a bit of hitch in them. You think that they are going express something noble and then there is something about the telling of the story that jars us.

The woman is not really using ‘yeast’ in the baking—she is using leaven.  Now leaven is more like ‘sour dough’ starter than the nice little cakes of yeast. It is stinky and smelly and really decaying bread. And in most cases 'leaven' is used in Scripture that readers are warned of. In the parable of the treasure or the pearl, the buyer squanders everything to buy the treasure. In the parable of the fishnet we find abundance and then angels’ discerning what is good and what is not. And the final one about how the writers or the preachers on the Scripture are supposed to take from the treasure and share from both the old and the new.

Jesus is teaching his followers how to glean from the law and the prophets the elements necessary to live out the love of God—the freedom of God in new ways while still being rooted in their own history.

Is this not our struggle too? Are we not trying, in our own age, to gather from the Bible the wisdom to live lives of freedom promised by God in those promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob 5 millennia ago?

For Jacob it was living with the promise that his small tribe would populate the area and that he and his offspring would eventually have a homeland. For Paul, in the reading from Romans today, he is telling the people of Rome that it was freedom from fear—freedom from the kinds of accusations of judgment that Jesus came. And for the people of the Galilee these parables help them think of lives lived without the fear of Roman domination, the fear of local puppet kings who ruled by force rather than by the law.

Jesus was inviting his followers to live by what God’s hope for all creation—to live in harmony and peace.

Was Jesus just another instigator for Israeli freedom? I don’t think so. I believe that the pre-Easter Jesus was a man who knew in God's worship such freedom that he wanted others to know that love too. Parables allowed him to share with others the immensity of God’s love without putting limits on it. These parables are similar to the koans of Buddhism to challenge the faithful to embrace the limitlessness of the Holy.

It is so easy to become so focused on the problems of the Church that we fail to notice that God works outside of that box. It is so easy to become focused on our own problems and fail to see God working in the lives of those around us. It is so easy to become focused on what the Scriptures say in Jesus’ day that we miss what God is saying in our own day.

Jesus was challenging his followers to know the unbinding love of God—a love that rooted out the fear in which they lived. His teaching was to stand in a faith in God that moved them beyond their complacence—their satisfaction of the status quo and helped them image a future where the principles of Godly love, trust and confidence could be the way that all people could lived. Jesus didn’t tell people all the answers—he challenged everyone to develop the answers for their lives. He did not spout laws—he helped people understand that it wasn’t the law that made them secure. It was the abandonment to the love of God that would allow to know what made them a noble people, a chosen race, a royal priesthood.

Paul understood that in Christ people did not have to fear anything—not even harm or death or the Roman imperialism. In Christ we don’t have to worry or protect ourselves with walls or garner power or wealth to sustain us. It was only in the liberation of God—that sense of freedom of no longer being in bondage to the law did we really understand the real law of God—to love.

So the purpose of the parables is to help us know freedom. We are called to think of what it will be like when God’s law to love others is really lived. What would it be like? What will it call from me? What might my family really look like if I live in a manner according to Divine love? What would my job look like if I really lived a truly liberated life? What would St. Martin’s look like if I lived more of a life of joy? What would this diocese be like if we could imagin what living out our faith in this part of Texas? In order for the Kingdom of heaven to be realized, we have to vison it is possible.  And so I would invite you this week to allow yourselves to imagin what it would take for you in your life to live as if your were a part of God's kingdom.  What do you have to do in your heart to make that happen?  What needs to happen for the Kindom of God to be come real?  Because God is calling us to live in that Kingdom now.  Not in the bye in bye.  But now.  AMEN

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