Ninth Sunday after Pentecost — July 30, 2023

The kingdom of heaven allows us to see our ordinary lives in extraordinary ways, Jo Wiersema writes, reflecting on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

Jo Wiersema reads their Looking into the Lectionary reflection.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Year A

A friend of mine taught me the phrase “I do not need to bring the kingdom of heaven because the kingdom of heaven is already here.”

This idea shifted my worldview. Early in my faith, I was taught that Christianity is a tool to transform unbelievers, unbelievers who aren’t considered privy to the kingdom of heaven. But what my friend reminded me, and what I’m reminded of in our parables today, is that the kingdom of heaven is already here. It is not something that we can gatekeep.

This concept of “kingdom of heaven” is seen only in Matthew’s Gospel. As Mitzi J. Smith and Yung Suk Kim write in Toward Decentering the New Testament, “God’s kingdom transcends any and all conceptualizations and levels of the heavens. It is both earthly and heavenly, and it bridges the two.” The kingdom of heaven is both caught up in our ordinary lives and beyond our understanding — and we see this in today’s passage from Matthew, which depicts several small, everyday miracles from mustard seeds to yeast to the labors of ordinary people. By bridging the finite and infinite, the kingdom of heaven offers us a lens to see our lives in new ways.

Take the use of yeast, for instance. As a home baker, this parable is one that speaks to me from today’s reading. A small sprinkle of yeast, when rightly applied, moves, eats and changes flour into some scientific wonder that feeds my family. While three measures of flour are equivalent to 50-60 pounds of flour (v. 33), which is more than the average baker will use on their weekend baking adventures, the hyperbolic point Christ is making is that the ordinary miracle of yeast is extraordinary. In the kingdom of heaven, small things can make a big difference.

In a similar way, the joy you might feel about your mustard plant (or tomato plant or zinnias or peppers) growing inch by inch, day by day, is an ordinary miracle in which we can touch and feel in the kingdom of heaven. A single, small seed grows to be “the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree” (v. 32). In the kingdom of heaven, ordinary things can grow beyond our imaginations.

These parables remind me that small actions can have large effects, that the kingdom is larger than my imagination, that you can’t judge a book by its cover — all belong. And that gives me hope.

In our second set of parables, we transition from reflecting on things to pondering people: ordinary people like a fieldworker (v. 44), a merchant (v. 45) and fishers (v. 47-48). They are not leaders in their community, but they are looking for something invaluable. They crave it. They are willing to change their lives for it. In each of these parables, there is joy, there is excitement and there is a sense of righteousness. Wrongs will be righted; justice will be served; we can find a treasure that will put our lives into perspective.

Through these everyday miracles, through these ordinary people, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven as something that is possible. It’s possible to find treasure (v. 44). It’s possible to find that priceless pearl (v. 46). It’s possible to pull in a bountiful net of fish (v. 48). The realm of possibility bridges the heavenly kingdom and the earthly kingdom. The kingdom of heaven is what is possible — beyond our recognition yet within our reach.

The kingdom of heaven is something so special it can only be pointed to through stories. It’s everyday miracles. It’s microorganisms that give us nourishment. It’s a seed almost too small to see. It’s a net so full of fish you cannot lift it.

Today’s reading ends with Jesus asking the disciples if they understand his parables (v. 51). Like a child nodding along at the end of Sunday school, they say “yes.” Perhaps we can relate.

Do we understand? Maybe. Maybe we don’t have the experience of a fieldworker or a bread maker or a fisher. Maybe we don’t understand every parable. But we can see and feel the miracles of the kingdom of heaven in our everyday lives. We know that a bridge connects the worlds of heaven and earth. We know that we don’t need to bring the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is right here.

Questions for reflection:

  1. Where do you see the kingdom of heaven in ordinary things?
  2. How do you think the kingdom of heaven uses ordinary people do extraordinary things?
  3. In what ways have these parables shown you something new today?

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