Although it is very sacrilegious and there’s quite a bit of profanity, one of my favorite books is Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. As you can gather from the title, it is a fictional account of Jesus’ life told from the perspective of Jesus’ best friend, Biff. It tells the story of Jesus as a boy and goes until the death and resurrection. Jesus and Biff go on many adventures to give background to how Jesus of Nazareth, preaches, teaches, like the Jesus of Nazareth that we come to know. The dialogue and banter of all the characters is amazing. But there is one interaction between Jesus and Biff that really connected me to this week’s Gospel.
Jesus and Biff are trying to sneak Mary Magdalene away from some Pharisees and so Biff concocts a plan to have Mary fake demonic possession so that she is seen as unclean and they can usher her away. After the plan works, Jesus (referred to as Joshua throughout the book) turns to Biff:
“I’ve got to think that that was unethical,” Joshua said.
“Josh, faking demonic possession is like a mustard seed.”
“How is it like a mustard seed?”
“You don’t know, do you? Doesn’t seem at all like a mustard seed, does it? Now you see how we all feel when you liken things unto a mustard seed? Huh?” (358-359)
Well, just like in Lamb, in this week’s Gospel text Jesus also tells a lot of parables that liken things to the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. And a hidden treasure in a field. And a great pearl. And a net that catches fish of every kind.
My favorite part about this text is the disciples’ response to these many Parables. Jesus goes on this list of parables (which also includes the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the weeds) and he asks them, “Have you understood all this?” and they answer… “Yes.”
YES! Really? You understand all of that? No extra questions or further advice? They answer: Yes.
Um, I’m going have to call B.S. on that one.
As disciples and seekers, ourselves, we too read and hear these parables and we desperately try to understand what they mean. In the parable of the weeds, are we good or bad? Are we going to be thrown into a furnace? In the net, are we good fish or bad fish? What does it mean that the kingdom is like pearl or a hidden treasure? Does is mean that it’s hard to find? Am I not looking hard enough?
And like the disciples, we just pray and hope that our interpretation is right, and we can just answer: Yep! We got it! Totally understand.
But, I don’t think that’s what it’s about. Earlier in Chapter 13, the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks in parables and he says, “The reason that I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand (13:13).’”
When we hear these parables, it sounds as if there should be direct meaning with each one. ‘The bad and good will be sorted’ or ‘the kingdom is hard to find’ or ‘difficult to get into’. But, what if we’re really supposed to take a step back and embrace the simplicity and the multitude.
Each of these parables of Jesus describe such a different possibility of the kingdom. Each of these parables give us access to a different quality of God. Each of the parables point us, not towards looking at the heavens, but towards looking at the world around us. Appreciating the kingdom that has come but is not fully here.
I do not think these parables should call us to look beyond this time and place. Instead, they call us to look at the kingdom that is already around us. We are not in the 13th Chapter of Matthew. We live knowing the outcome of the story. We live knowing that the kingdom can be seen through the open arms of Christ on the cross.
It is through that lens that we can see this broken world anew and work to mend and repair this kingdom. Can we take root in this world and become the tree that gives rest and sanctuary to those who need shelter from hate, discrimination, and intolerance? Can we find those who are seeking and searching and invest in their lives to help them in every way that we can? Can we open our arms to all people, no matter where they come from, what their background is, or how they identify themselves?
If asked, do I understand everything that I’ve heard, I would have to answer with a huge resounding “NO!” And I think that is more than okay. But because of Christ’s death and resurrection out of unconditional love for all people we know that we are called to live into that kingdom of love and inclusion here and now.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, that started out as one person but grew to be a church that loves and supports everyone.