15 Nov God’s Kingdom Reimagined
God’s Kingdom Reimagined
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
November 15, 2020
Calvary Presbyterian Church
What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Breaking News” or you see those words, always in red letters and often interrupting other programming, splashed across your TV screen or other device? When we see these words, we know that something amazing, terrible, incredible, troubling, or heart-breaking has occurred. We also know that we’re about to learn more.
When NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash last January, a lot of people heard about it when a “breaking news” ticker scrolled across the bottom of their laptops or TV screens. Eight days ago the breaking news our entire nation was awaiting was who had won the U.S. presidential election.
Breaking news. The combination of these two words is interesting. What is the grammatical role of the word “breaking”? As our English teachers would tell us, it is an adjective that modifies the word “news,” so the ticker across your screen could also read: “News that is breaking!” The important question is, exactly what is the news breaking?
Think back to the events of September 11, 2001. Where were you that morning? What were you doing when the news broke about the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan and the one that crashed into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania?
That news, like all “breaking news,” broke into our consciousness. It broke into history. It ripped through our communities, shredding conventional ideas, traditional assumptions, and long-held beliefs. It was news that altered, modified, shattered, and forever changed — something. The John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations in the 1960s. The moon landing in 1969. The Challenger explosion. George Floyd’s killing earlier this year? Reality, life, and human experience would never be the same. These events were indeed “breaking news,” or news that broke in upon our consciousness and awareness. Our lives as we knew them changed on those days; nothing was ever the same. Something indeed had been broken.
This is the meaning conveyed by our gospel reading for today, although certainly not in the negative sense of 9/11. Rather, the news that Jesus breaks is astonishing and incredibly good news. In fact, this is the way the announcement is framed in the gospels. Breaking news: Good news! The kingdom of God is upon us! The kingdom of God is within you! Or, as John the Baptist would thunder, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2).
Jesus himself, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, began his ministry by announcing the same exciting, incredible, and utterly novel news: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added).
I think it’s fair to say that most people — after hearing breaking news — want details. Many of us have an insatiable thirst for more information, more background, or more understanding. Poised on the edge of our seats waiting for additional details, we will stay tuned to our TV, or consult online sites regularly. We want to know more.
We get breaking news about a variety of issues:
- CNN Breaking News: US COVID-19 cases surpass 100,000 per day.
- BBC Breaking News: European Parliament votes to ratify Brexit withdrawal
- CBS Breaking News: Kamala Harris makes history as first female of color to be elected Vice-President of the U.S.
- This is what Jesus does in our text. He makes an announcement of unprecedented news. He provides context. He offers the disciples understanding and insight. The kingdom of God has broken into history. It shatters everything! Yet, still there are questions, the most significant of which is what does this incredible, amazing, and daring action mean?
Jesus explains with parables and metaphors. Okay, he says:
- the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
- Or, try this: it’s like yeast.
- Or, here’s another way of looking at it: it is like treasure in a field.
- It’s also like an expensive pearl.
- Finally, it’s like a fishing net.
Now, let’s look at each of these and then draw some conclusions.
First, the mustard seed. This seed is so small that, in the sowing of it, it’s almost invisible. Yet from this virtually invisible seed, a huge shrub develops, large enough for birds to fly in, nest, and rest.
As an image of the kingdom of God, this tells us that the kingdom’s power is so great that no matter how small the work, no matter how small the seed that is sown, it results in something great and amazing. Some commentators believe that the reference to the birds speaks to the nature of the kingdom as a hospitable place where all can find shelter and rest. The kingdom of God, in other words, is not a thorny shrub where little birds are pierced, uncomfortable, judged, and unwelcome.
The metaphor also reminds us that we cannot do everything. All we can do is plant seeds. Some “seeds” may be virtually invisible to the eyes of others — insignificant, seemingly meaningless, unimportant acts of love or service or kindness. But, although we may never see the shrub, these seeds grow and develop into a work that is important and of eternal value.
Second, yeast. This metaphor is similar to the previous one. That which is small, in fact, virtually invisible, yields an astounding product much larger than itself. In this case, the emphasis is not on the external growth, but something that is happening inwardly. The leaven works within the dough. Jesus is driving home another principle about the kingdom of God. It unerringly penetrates. It permeates and pervades the neighborhood, the culture, and the world into which it is introduced.
Dough without yeast is heavy and thick. Dough into which leaven has been introduced is completely different. The kingdom of God is a change agent. It causes expansion, development, movement, a metamorphosis. So what is our image of the kingdom of God? Is it like a leavened loaf of bread, or an unleavened piece of flatbread?
Next, the kingdom is like a treasure in a field and an expensive pearl. It was not uncommon in the first century A.D. for someone who had something quite valuable to bury the precious item in his backyard or field. The object was thereby protected from marauders and thieves.
Remember the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30)? A wealthy man goes on a journey but gives some money to three of his servants and asks them to invest it wisely so that there is a handsome return on investment when he gets back.
Time goes by. The master returns, and two of his servants are pleased to announce that they made a significant profit for their employer during his absence. The third servant, however, is able only to safely return the original cash. “But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money” (v. 19). He protected his master’s money by burying it in the ground.
Jesus’ parable in our text supposes that someone has found a treasure in a field accidentally. What is he going to do? He buys the field so he can legally claim the treasure in the field.
The purchase of a priceless pearl is a different matter. In this case, the pearl is not discovered accidentally. It is discovered by someone who is shopping for precious gems, or something similar. He finds this incredible pearl, and knowing its value, sells off everything he owns to purchase it.
Breaking news! The kingdom of God is more precious, more valuable than anything in this world. Give up everything to possess the kingdom!
This is Jesus’ message time and time again, from the rich young ruler, to the disciples who abandoned their fishing boats to follow him, to Jesus’ comments about self-denial and picking up one’s cross.
Jesus also seems to imply a sort of “hidden” quality to the kingdom of God. The treasure is buried; the pearl is sequestered within the shell. Still, some people stumble upon the kingdom of God anyway, albeit accidentally. Some are searching for it and find it. But in any case, once discovered, you divest yourself of anything that would deny complete possession of this incredible “pearl of great price.”
Finally, a fishing net. Perhaps most exciting of all for a people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire, is the message that someday the kingdom of God will triumph over evil. This last parable that provides further details about the “breaking news” of the kingdom of God is the announcement that the kingdom of God is not just a present, spiritual reality, but also an inevitable future physical reality. This eschatological dimension of the kingdom reminds us that the tares will someday be separated from the wheat (13:24-30); someday the “bad” fish will be separated from the good (v. 38). The evil will be separated from the righteous.
For so many people today, the times in which we live are dangerous, confusing, and crushing. Evil and unrighteousness are all around us. We are often beleaguered by despair and uncertainty. Jesus’ message reminds us to step out into the light of the certain victory and triumph of righteousness. Breaking news! We can leave all of this in the hands of God and reimagine our church as a mustard seed, as being yeast in the world around us. Breaking news! Jesus Says That We Don’t Have to Bury Our Treasure!
So, what does all of this mean to us? In verses 51 and 52: Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?” to which they respond, “Yes.” Then, Jesus says to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
In other words, get out the best china and silverware! Put your treasure on display! We do not, and should not, hide our light under a bushel basket (see 5:14-15). We are agents of the new kingdom! We are heralds and messengers breaking the best possible news upon a world eager, in fact, desperate to hear some good news! And it’s our job to tell it.
Thanks be to God. Amen.