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  • alisonwale

Do you have ears?

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

At our early evening service, our Worship Leader reflected on various parables of Jesus, and how he used everyday images to make people think about the Kingdom of God in different ways.


The problem with our Summer Programme is that being on a fortnightly rota, we miss out on some of the readings planned in the lectionary. Of course, if you are a dedicated person, you would read them anyway, but I must admit I’m not that good! As you know, our Gospel readings are from Matthew, and at the moment we are in the midst of a group of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God. A couple of Sundays ago, Father Thomas preached on Jesus’ saying about his yoke being easy; the following Sunday, the reading was that of the Sower, this week the wheat and the tares, next week several pithy sayings when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to many things…all of these parables are ones we know well, they are stories that we remember because to a certain extent at least, they talk about situations we can relate to.

But imagine how, even more than to us, these situations resonated with those who listened to Jesus actually telling these stories.

Often, I forget about the humanity of Jesus, the fact that he was truly man, rooted in the poverty of a Palestinian village, making his own living, as the rabbis of the time had to do, and linking up with the people that he met. I very much enjoy the thought of Jesus, plonking himself on the ground in the shade of a tree, round about lunch time and sharing a hunk of bread and a flask of wine with his mates. He was human; he enjoyed the mundane kind of things that we enjoy today, he lived a human life, but that life was shot through with a close relationship with God his Father. And it was this that came out in his conversations, in his teaching, in the very way he lived his life.

He must have been a very personable man, in order to be able to make these connections with people, but I suspect too that he would soon begin to make you feel uncomfortable as you talked with him, as he challenged your long-held beliefs and code of living. But what strikes me is that as he was challenging people, most of the time he did it with a smile on his lips, and with a gentle humour that people would respond to. He talked about things that people understood, he put things in a way that caused his listeners to say “Yes, that happened to me…”

One early church writer described Jesus as “working as a carpenter when among men, making ploughs and yokes, by which he taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life”. I can just see Jesus finishing off a yoke for somebody, looking up and seeing a little crowd had gathered, maybe just to watch a craftsman at work, maybe because they knew he told good stories, or handed out bread and fish. But when Jesus saw them maybe he lifted up the yoke, jokingly settling it on someone’s shoulders and saying, “Take my yoke upon you …for my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. And then every time they saw a yoke after that, his listeners would think again about what Jesus had said.

And almost all the parables that Jesus told were linked to everyday life; events that happened and things that people came across frequently. Yes, I remember when one of the coins dropped off my headdress and I spent days looking for it. Yes, there was that time when I watched the birds come and eat the seed I’d just sown…

Jesus’ teaching was filled with workplace images and analogies that sparked memories in people’s minds, and which came back to them when the same thing happened to them. And in this group of parables, Jesus uses every day similes to talk about the Kingdom of God.

I could probably spend a sermon on each one, but today I just want to draw out perhaps one point for each parable, one that you can take home with you so that you can mull over it and develop your thinking yourself.

That first parable that was last week’s reading, is that often known as the parable of the Sower, but which in one of my Bibles is entitled the parable of the soils, which I think might be a better title, as it does indeed compare the different soils that the seed fell onto with the receptiveness of those who hear Jesus’ words. Perhaps it was meant to serve as a warning to those who were listening – listen well to the rest of these stories, and be open in mind. Many sermons have been preached on this parable, and I do not feel able to add anything else to the wisdom of others, save to ask you to consider which soil are you?

Sticking with an agricultural theme, Jesus then tells the story of the wheat and the weeds, which is our reading for today. This seems to be a warning, telling us that there are people who seem to be a part of God’s kingdom, and yet are not. These people may fool others, but they do not fool God. However, in the way of the Kingdom, both the people of God and the people of the enemy are allowed to flourish until the end of time. It is God who does the sorting out; it is not our task to judge others, we must only look at our own growth. Christ’s followers must wait until God brings this age to an end and leave the separating of humankind to God and his angels. This can be compared to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4:5: “do not pronounce judgement before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God”.

Sometimes it seems that some Christians are so involved in condemning others for their behaviour that they neglect to look at where their own faults lie. That is not what God wants us to do. Instead, we must trust God that, in his time, justice will come and all humankind will see the Kingdom of God.

The agrarian theme continues next week with the parable of the mustard seed, which is similar to our saying “Tall oaks from little acorns grow”. Jesus’ parable seems to be promising us that the Kingdom of God, although starting very small, would become a force to be reckoned with. This links too with the next parable, comparing the Kingdom to a lump of leaven that is hidden in the bread mix. Both parables are saying that although what we started with is very small, it can have an enormous effect on what is around it. The seed grows to a tree, the leaven effects the whole loaf. At this time, Jesus is saying, those in the Kingdom are small in number, but the time will come when they will be spread over all the world.

At the time when Jesus is speaking, the Kingdom is hidden, for people do not yet comprehend what it is that he is talking about, but like the yeast begins to work as soon as it is put in with the bread mix, so the power of the Kingdom has already been unleashed into the world with the healings and exorcisms that Jesus has performed. And as the seed will not stop growing until it has grown into a tree, and the yeast will not stop leavening until the loaf is ready, so the power of the Kingdom will not stop until the end of time, when God’s purposes are fulfilled.

We are like that yeast, for we are part of the Kingdom, we are Kingdom people. Just as the yeast makes changes to the mixture around it so we are called to have an effect on the people around us, being involved in their lives and bringing them to the Kingdom as well. And what we should remember is that the yeast doesn’t have to DO anything to achieve these remarkable effects; it just IS. It is what it is, and in being so affects the bread mix. As Kingdom people we don’t need to rush about, DOING things. We should just be what God has called us to be, and in so being we will begin to affect the society around us. While it might be quite trite, the saying that God made us to be human beings, not human doings is neat enough to remind us to be like yeast, like the seed, both of which are there, quietly doing their job.

And as the Kingdom is hidden, it therefore can be found. The next two parables compare the Kingdom of God to hidden treasure and to a pearl of great price. In the first of these two similes, the man who found the treasure wasn’t looking for it, he just stumbled across it. But having come across it he has to make a decision: what to do now? To gain this treasure will cost him all he has, so what does he do? Note that it is with great joy that the man sells all his possessions to buy the field in which the treasure lies; it is not with heavy heart, or a sense of duty, but rather with great joy. Sometimes it is the fact that, without being in a position of spiritual searching, we can stumble across the good news of Christ. Having done so, the decision needs to be made – what now? The disciples who had been mending their nets hadn’t necessarily been looking for a new way of life, but when Jesus called them, unexpectedly and out of the blue, they knew that they had to give up everything they knew and held dear to take their place beside this itinerant preacher.

The merchant on the other hand has been actively seeking the wonderful pearl that he finds. He knows then that he must have this one pearl, and that every pearl that he has collected previously is worthless compared to this one. Again, he sells everything he has to own this one pearl. This reminds me of Nathaniel, another disciple. He HAD been looking for something, for he had been meditating and praying under the fig tree when he was brought to meet Jesus. And as soon as he met Jesus, he knew. He knew that everything he had studied and meditated on beforehand was worthless. He had found what he was looking for.

In both cases, the Kingdom is such a priceless treasure that a wise man would gladly give his all for the chance to seize it, for it is the chance of a lifetime. Half measures will not do for the Kingdom of God, which to me begs the question what has my commitment to Christ cost me? What would I sell in order to gain the King and his Kingdom? These uncomfortable questions remind me of the prayer from the Methodist Covenant service “ I am no longer my own but yours… let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing…” A wonderful prayer, but one during which I almost always feel like crossing my fingers! I can only pray that whenever I am called upon to make a sacrifice for Christ, I will be able to do so. I don’t know if I would be up to selling everything I have, or changing my career or lifestyle, if called so to do. But these parables call us to recognise that finding the Kingdom of God – and being part of that Kingdom – may indeed call us to great sacrifice.

The final parable in this group harks back to the wheat and the weeds, but perhaps was told in deference to the disciples, many of whom were former fishermen. The Kingdom is compared to the drag net thrown into the sea that gathers up all kinds of fish some good to eat, some not so good. When it is full, then the fish are sorted out. When the end time is fulfilled, then God will sort out which fish are Kingdom people and which are not. As it is, at present, we are all swimming together in that net, a mixed bunch of saints and sinners, but, thank God, he can see into our hearts and he knows which of us are his fish.

These stories that Jesus told connect back vividly to the lives of his listeners, to the world of agriculture, of fishing, of baking and of buying and selling. Perhaps today he would be telling stories of computing, of the Olympics or World Cup, of high-speed travel. Whatever it is, this down-to-earthedness of Jesus’ teaching shows that it is possible to see God present and active in every day things if you look at them with wonder and with open eyes. All of the stories he told of the kingdom ring as true to us today as they did to his audience two thousand odd years ago. What we need to do is to be open to hear his message. As Jesus said in one of his parables “He who has ears, let him hear”.

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