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Three parables: Finding and gathering (July 30, 2023)

What if we viewed the three parables in Matthew 13:44-52 through the eyes of a child, Mark Hinds wonders?

Outlook Standard Lesson for July 30, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus’ teachings regarding the kingdom of heaven frequently involve a reversal of expectations. “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last” and “Anyone who seeks to save their life must lose it.” In his parables, Jesus offers illustrations of these reversals — a tiny mustard seed becomes a grand bush; an insignificant piece of leaven feeds three bushels of flour. Jesus offers another reversal that, when applied to the last three kingdom parables of Matthew 13, sheds important insight. That reversal? “Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Three parables

The TV commercial opens in a corporate boardroom. Sitting around the table, a group of adults are dressed in their business finery. On the meeting agenda is one of their products, a bear-shaped gummy candy. Without missing a beat, the executives become kids again. “I can’t stop eating this orange one.” “The red one is more gooder to me because it tastes like berries.” “It has this juicy flavor to it.” “They’re really squishy.” “My bear’s doing like cartwheels and backflips.”

The commercial stays with me because it’s surprising. I expect corporate bigwigs to crunch the numbers, not delight in the sweet treat. Whenever I see the TV ad, I hear Jesus’s words, “Repent.” “Change your mind.” “See the world differently.” Like children do.

Maybe, taking Jesus’ advice, we should read the parables in today’s reading through childhood experiences. The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, a merchant searching for fine pearls, and a net cast into the sea. In your mind’s eye, watch a group of kids in your backyard digging for treasure. One finds an ancient bottle, another a multicolored stone, and another an exotic shell. Fascinated by a frog hopping through the garden, a couple of kids trample your zinnias in pursuit of the reptile. It’s almost like they’re possessed. You can see in their joy and delight that they see the world differently than you do. Whereas all you see is the mess they’re making, all they see is treasure everywhere they look!

Jesus’ playful parables unveil a world that can’t help itself when confronted with the kingdom promise of life as God intends — “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:5). Who wouldn’t go digging to uncover such a treasure? Who wouldn’t cast a net to capture a glimpse of God’s restorative grace breaking into creation?

Have you understood all this?

Brian P. Stoffregen suggests that the parables of the treasure, the pearl and the net mean that “the kingdom of God is not a treasure we possess. It is something that grasps us.” When Jesus asks the question, “Have you understood all this?” I hear him asking, “Will the kingdom possess you?”

In the movie “Scrooged!” Frank Cross is a contemporary version of Ebenezer Scrooge – hard-hearted, vain, and cruel – until his Christmas Eve encounters with three angels breaks open his hard heart. Following his conversion, Cross announces the fruit of his repentance:

“Christmas Eve [is] the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, smile a little easier, cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the year, we are the people we always hoped we would be. It’s a miracle. … And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it, I know what I am talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. … some people don’t have enough to eat or people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say, ‘Here!’ You can make them a sandwich and say, ‘Oh, by the way, here!’ If you give, then the miracle can happen to you! … It can happen every day. You’ve just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and want it, you’ll get greedy for it! You’ll want it every day of your life!”

When has the promise of the kingdom possessed you and motivated you to new, joyful, risky, playful and costly behavior? This conduct doesn’t sound like many adults I know, including myself — we seldom risk anything for the kingdom. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to settle for a blasé faith and witness. Start digging for treasure; cast your net and gather in people you ordinarily have nothing to do with. Share your sandwich. Give a ride to the clinic. Open your eyes to the treasures all around you. Get greedy for the kingdom.

Questions for discussion

  • What are your favorite excuses for failing to embrace the kingdom fully? Are you too busy? Too important? How can you repent of these excuses?
  • When was the last time you let yourself go and abandoned yourself fully to God’s kingdom? What did it feel like?

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