Still Teaching, Still Preaching

Heritage Presbyterian Church

July 26, 2020
8th Sunday After Pentecost/17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scripture readings – Matthew 13: 31-35, 44-54

In the somewhat jumbled readings for today, we get a whole list of parables from Jesus that he seemed to have delivered in a single setting.  While that is possible, it certainly points to Jesus, the master teacher, being in the moment with his class of learners.  It also points to Jesus, the master preacher, being in the moment with his congregation.

This begs the questions for today: Are the parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel for teaching – or for preaching?  Are they instructive – or are they proclaiming?  Let’s take a close look at each one. 

The parable of the mustard seed: forget about “small vs. big” when you hear this one.  Instead, focus on sometimes insignificant things can lead to great things.  It only takes a spark to light a huge fire than can spread as fires do.  It only takes one action for true change to occur.  Small and insignificant can lead to great.

But often we ask ourselves, “Who am I?  What difference can one person make?  Why would God bother with little ol’ me?  It is just for that type of thinking that the parable of the mustard seed is told.  Just a tiny action, just one person, can change how the Kingdom of Heaven is understood here on earth.  One person, one action can save thousands of people.  One person can still make a difference.

The parable of yeast: We don’t always see or know about the catalyst that changes things for the better.  Sometimes we don’t even expect the catalyst.  But when those changes occur, there is no missing them.  No one can deny that.  It is obvious to anyone’s eyesight.  Major change due to a catalyst changing the situation is obvious change.

Notice how the parable used the phrase “three measures of flour.”  That much flour would fill a bushel basket…that’s a LOT of flour.  And it’s going to make a LOT of bread.  Almost as if Jesus is telling us the yeast will cause the dough to create enough bread to have a celebration.  From that small catalyst, the bread could become a feast for the people of God.

The parable of the hidden treasure: Who doesn’t understand the excitement of the phrases “buried treasure” or “hidden treasure”?  That is what makes most pirate stories so enticing!  And once the treasure is discovered, it always brings to mind the thought: “What would you do if you found it?”  Now that’s a fun thought, even for little kids!  Those poor people who were listening to Jesus could easily understand the importance of hidden treasure…that’s the sort of thing that could change their lives forever.  The kingdom of Heaven being like discovering a hidden treasure is similar in its ability to change lives forever.

God has set a treasure somewhere for us to find.  How do we do it?  

  • Are we stumbling into it?  Perhaps.
  • Are we led to it by others?  Maybe.
  • Are we compelled by the Spirit?  Now we’re getting somewhere!

But don’t forget the inevitable question: “What would you do if you found it?”  Now that the kingdom of Heaven has been discovered by you, what will you do with that knowledge?

The parable of the valuable pearl: A pearl is so unusual, so pretty, so valuable and so pleasing to the eye…it’s the sort of thing that can draw a crowd.  You can’t dig them out of a mine; they take hours of skilled diving and finding just the right one. Once a perfect pearl is found, the bidding usually begins always right away.  For people who lived near the sea, pearls are a rich item that they knew about.  

For those who would seek something like this beautiful, perfect pearl, they know what they are looking for.  There is no mistake, nothing will stop them from finding it.  And what will be the response to finding that pearl, the Kingdom of Heaven?  Overwhelming joy!  Amazing satisfaction!  The perfect triumph!

The parable of the fishnet: Now we go from the precious pearl to the common, almost lowly fishnet.  It is something that even the poorest people easily understand.  Catching fish is not difficult.  Using a net that is thrown out from a boat and then dragging it in is simple and easy to understand.  Its simplicity is almost taken for granted because it works so well.  Anything that could improve upon its design immediately makes it more complicated…and harder to use. 

I can only imagine how this parable fell on the ears of  Jesus’ disciples.  Many of them were fishermen who perfectly understand the points Jesus was making.  The people understood how fishnets worked and how fish were caught.  But the fishermen understood better than anyone that casting a big net meant sometimes you caught things that were not good.  When you pulled the net to shore and dumped everything out, you then had to separate the good from the bad.  Some critters that were caught were not just bad, they were forbidden.  The Old Testament book of Leviticus taught which fish were good and which ones needed to be cast aside.  

Imagine the startling realization the disciples might have experienced when they heard Jesus using their daily work as a metaphor for what would happen at the end of time…

So, what have we accomplished today with this exercise?  Did we answer the basic questions?  Are these parables in the 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel used for instruction or for preaching?

I think the obvious answer is both.  Jesus never missed a chance to teach the people about the Kingdom of Heaven, but in doing so, he was proclaiming his basic message that began with the appearance of John the Baptist: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Jesus came for three reasons:

  1. To heal the sick and even raise the dead;
  2. To cast out demons;
  3. To proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven.

In using parables, Jesus focused his listeners on his third and most important reason for coming to earth.

And in doing so, Jesus left behind a message that keeps teaching and preaching to us today.