“When, therefore, a teacher of the law has become a learner in the kingdom of heaven, he is like a householder who can produce from his store both the new and the old.“ Jesus, in St Matthew 13:31-33,44-52, NEB.
“In my vulnerability we found an intensity of love that we’d never expressed before. Being closer to the last day has brought a richness to each and every day.” George Alagiah, speaking of the spread of his cancer.
Today’s Gospel reading for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity speaks of the kingdom of heaven in a series of images giving glimpses of the different aspects of God’s kingdom. Each one includes the words ‘the Kingdom of heaven is like….‘ and there is a pairing among them.
The parables of the mustard seed and yeast are addressed to the crowds and show small beginnings leading to great developments – from just a seed, and with the hard work of the farmer, a great plant grows which is big enough to shelter the birds. A small quantity of yeast has power to affect a large quantity of flour – three measures would bake enough bread for 100-150 people – and in those days, people didn’t usually have pure yeast but would keep some leavened dough from the last batch to leaven the next. With care and time, it would spread throughout the flour, making a huge difference, of which these parables speak. Jesus intended to encourage those listening to him and this applies to us today as we consider the small beginnings now possible as the Covid-19 restrictions ease. The challenges ahead may seem daunting – even opening the church and holding services has to be done after risk assessments, training, no singing and at a two metres distance. This may seem hard work and our resources too few but the words and stories of Jesus to his followers then may give us hope today.
Jesus continues with the parables addressed to the disciples when the crowds have gone. He speaks of hidden treasure and a valuable pearl – objects of great worth which lead to those who discover them selling all they have to own the field where the treasure is buried or the pearl of great price. Neither owner is sad to sell everything, because of the prospect of possessing such treasure – people often buried valuable possessions because there were no secure banks, small villages were sometimes looted and soldiers were free to take what they needed. It was a case of finders, keepers if treasure had been forgotten because its owner had died or if they had left home and were unable to return. Jesus reminded his followers about commitment to what is being asked of them at a time of great uncertainty – how appropriate to hear this today, in the uncertainty we face and as we consider what is of real worth now.
Finally, in the parable of the net Jesus speaks of a dragnet which scoops up all sorts of fish. As sea creatures without scales or fins could not be eaten by observant Jews, the unusable fish would be sorted by the fishermen and later discarded. Jesus indicates that the separation of good and bad will happen and, as we consider the moral issues and complex decisions of what’s happened during the Coronavirus pandemic, we need to be mindful of the investigations and judgements that will come for governments, communities and individuals as responsibilities and actions are considered later on.
Jesus used these simple stories to tell truths about God and his kingdom that are still as relevant today as they were then. Covid-19 has made many reassess what is important in life and, with our way of life so profoundly changing, the vulnerability now being experienced by so many may teach us much, as George Alagiah has discovered. We have much to learn and, like the householder of whom Jesus speaks, in the days ahead we will also have to produce the old and the new, mingling both to shape the new normal as it evolves. There will be indications of what to look for: ”the kingdom’s form is perpetually little, always seed-sized, divinely designed to be a treasure in earthen, not golden, vessels so that the exceeding greatness of the gospel’s power might always be God’s, not human beings” – FD Bruner.
Collect for the week
Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
With my prayers,