This Sunday we have heard a group of parables about the kingdom of heaven. The last two Sundays we heard about the sowers of seeds, and how the word will be heard by many, and accepted by few.
This was something new to the Jews, who frankly did not know much about the heavenly realm. They were more worried about earthly realms, and the kingdom of Israel in particular.
The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking knew something about kingdoms. Since the first king Saul had united the tribes of Israel into a united Monarchy, the kingdom of Israel was a historical certainty. Along with kingdom was a constant theme of battle.We have been reading from first and second Samuel during Morning Prayer this past week, and we have heard about the death of Saul, and his sons, in battle with the Philistines. Earlier in the book of Samuel, the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel. Soon after, David was anointed king, and we all know how that turned out.
In short, the human kings anointed as the kings of Israel were sinful and weak, and often wronged the people they were supposed to protect.
Jesus came to be a different sort of king for Israel. Remember his entry into Jerusalem riding on the foal of an ass? He fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.”
There is a bit more of that prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus:
“As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.”
This kingdom that Zechariah is writing about is an earthly kingdom, but in the fulfillment, Jesus has brought in a heavenly kingdom.
Wherever he went, Jesus said, the kingdom of heaven is at hand, meaning it is here and I am your King!
The parables we heard today are about his kingdom, one like has never been seen before. He tried to convey the deeper reality of this kingdom to his disciples, using imagery they could understand.
The first one is this:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
To me this says that the Kingdom of Jesus has the potential to grow, and to grow very large. It will grow and it will attract people to it. It is a kingdom that people will want to join, to abide in, to make their homes in under the protection and benevolence of the King.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
This says to me that the kingdom is powerful. Its power is that it can change people. It can change people from ordinary to extraordinary. It can change people from being dead in spirit to being alive in the Spirit. It can raise the lowly, strengthen the weak, encourage the sorrowful, and support all who come to it. It can bring us out of error into truth, out of death into life.
The next saying is this: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This says to me that the kingdom is hidden from those who will not see, who choose not to see, and when it is found by someone who wants to see it brings such joy that we want it all! The kingdom is hidden from those who worship science as the giver of knowledge. They see human beings as mere accidents of evolution, and the pre-born as disposable.
The next one is this:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
This says to me that the kingdom of heaven is priceless, and nothing will ever take its place. No matter what you have, it will never compare to living in the kingdom of heaven. People of the world see their success in their possessions, in their position. None of that matters when you live in the kingdom of heaven.
And lastly there is this:
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age.”
This says to me that the kingdom of heaven is selective. It draws many to it, but no all are fit for it. Not all are the kind of subjects that the King wants. Some may say they believe, but live their lives as if they don’t. These may put on their religion like a coat, and take it off if it gets too warm.
This one is like the parable of the sower from last week declaring that there will be a judgement at the end of the age. Remember what Jesus said at the end of that reading?
“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”
St. Luke also confirms this in the Acts of the Apostles (10:42),
“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”
The kingdom of heaven, of our Father, is prepared for us. As his children, we are inheritors of the kingdom, but it would seem that there is no guarantee. We all still have freedom of choice, and some will choose our Father, and some will choose the ways of the world, and of the flesh. We cannot judge these people, but Jesus most certainly will. We do not want even one of them to be lost, so we must pray for them to see the Light of Christ.
We pray for those who are lost, that they will open their eyes to the truth, and will repent and return to the Lord. We do not want anyone to miss out on the joys of the kingdom of heaven! So God loved the world, and so we pray that the world will love God.