These images are Good News of God’s persistent grace in bringing life and healing to all through you and through me.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 17 A
Texts: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52; Romans 8:26-39; Genesis 29:15-28
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Jesus is telling good news here.
That’s the truth in these parables of the reign of heaven. “Jesus went through Galilee,” Matthew says, “proclaiming the Good News of the reign of heaven, saying it has come near.” (4:17, 23)
These images are all Good News. And that means there’s hope.
There’s hope in a tiny seed, Jesus says.
Walking alongside a field, seeing a mustard plant, Jesus says, “That’s what I’m talking about! God’s reign, the reign of heaven, is like that.”
A tiny seed, carrying the whole life and future of the larger plant inside it, doesn’t reveal that potential. But it will germinate and grow and become a shelter for birds, a giver of shade.
Good news, Jesus says. That’s what you are! You might feel insignificant, small, unable to do much for this world’s pain, but you have the glory of God’s love and grace already within you. Living in God’s reign of love, you will grow and thrive and give shade and shelter in ways you can’t imagine, a blessing to others.
Have hope in that, Jesus says.
There’s hope in yeast, Jesus says.
Glimpsing a woman through a doorway who’s making bread, Jesus says, “That’s what I’m talking about! God’s reign, the reign of heaven, is like that.”
Just a few little organisms placed in a big pile of flour start to grow, eat sugars, and a miracle happens: a loaf rises out of that sticky lump, and once baked, it’s a delight to the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the stomach.
Good news, Jesus says. That’s what you are! You might feel insufficient, and the problems of the suffering world immense: what can so few do? But when you join with others and love as Christ in your little space in this suffering world, you change the chemistry of your world. From what seems unsightly and inedible comes nourishment for all, like beautiful bread.
Have hope in that, Jesus says.
There’s also hope if you can learn to see real treasure, Jesus says.
If you found a treasure only you knew about, you’d do all you could to have it be yours. If you spent your life searching for the most beautiful pearl and found it, you’d sell everything to have it.
But what if you don’t see the reign of heaven as such a treasure, such a pearl? Try this: In God’s reign, love of God and love of neighbor transform and heal all things. Imagine this world, this city, if all loved God, all loved their neighbor. That’s the treasure of God’s reign, Jesus says, that’s the pearl.
Good news, Jesus says. This way of vulnerable love which I’m calling you to walk is one that will bring joy and life to you and to those around you, transform your world. It is the most precious thing you could know.
Have hope in that, Jesus says.
There’s even hope in a big, wide net, Jesus says.
Watching people pulling in nets on the lake, Jesus says, “That’s what I’m talking about! God’s reign, the reign of heaven, is like that.”
A net pulls in more than fish, though. Driftwood, old boots, even what some would call trash. Only the Netminder gets to decide what’s worth keeping and what isn’t. Now, the added interpretation here says in the end times the good will be kept and the evil thrown on the fire.
But that’s not Jesus’ verdict. At the cross, drawing all things to himself, Jesus said, “every single thing in this net, in this world, in this creation, is mine and loved and redeemed by this.” Nothing will be thrown and burned.
This net opens up the joy of Paul’s strange words today about predestination that sometimes cause anxiety. Look carefully at Paul’s logic. He starts with “those God whom foreknew.” Well, the Triune God created all things, so is there anyone God doesn’t foreknow, any thing?
And all God foreknew, Paul says, God predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Since God obviously foreknew the whole creation, then God also predestined all things to be shaped into Christ’s love. And those God predestined, God called, Paul says. Who wants to argue that God doesn’t call everyone, everything? And those whom God called, God justified, and those whom God justified God glorified. Follow the logic: all are foreknown, so all are predestined to conform to Christ, therefore all are called, all are justified, all are glorified. God’s net is as wide and inclusive as the universe.
Good news, Jesus says. You might be an old boot, but God treasures you. Have hope in that, Jesus says.
One thing here might give you concern: time is needed for all these.
The seed doesn’t grow instantly; the bread needs hours to rise. The treasure finder needs time to re-bury, get money, get the title. The merchant spends a lifetime looking for the great pearl. And only when the net gets pulled up on shore is God’s treasure seen for what it is.
Good news is here, and hope is here. But be ready for things to take time. God’s reign – a way of working healing through each of us, through you, incarnate in you as love and grace – is not an instant fix.
Just look at Leah today, discarded, unloved by her husband, seen as a nuisance to be gotten rid of by her father, outshone by her sister. It’s a wretched story for Leah.
But remember this: Leah is the mother of Judah, the ancestor of David. Leah, not Rachel, is the multiple great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king. And about 1,600 years after she was so shamefully treated, God’s Messiah, the Incarnate One, Jesus himself, is born from Leah’s line, not Rachel’s. Leah is the one in whom God’s glory shines, God’s favor spreads to the world. It just took some time.
Now can you see why Paul says, “Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus?”
Even if it takes centuries, God will accomplish the healing and restoration of all things through this vulnerable love. If these stories tell you anything about God it is that God is persistent and steady and will finally get what God desires. Even if God has to die and rise to get it all started. Even if God has to work with tiny little seeds like you and me, people who struggle to see the treasure when it’s right in front of us, people who want to kick others out of the net.
At the cross, Christ drew all things into God’s embrace in order to send out all things for the healing of the creation. So God’s reign will come, is already near.
Seeds are growing into trees, yeast is creating bread, treasures are found, nets are gathering in all things, and Leah has become Messiah’s grandma.
Have hope in this. This is good news. For you. For all.
In the name of Jesus. Amen