“HIDE AND SEE IT”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
September 10, 2023
Matthew 13:31-36 NRSV
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” 36Then he left the crowds and went into the house.
I’m at that age where my vision is a problem. Seems like I can’t get the right prescription for my contact lenses to see things clearly. Either I can see things at a distance but not up close, or vice versa. Then along comes Jesus and his parables, where the meanings are often heard to see, hard to understand. The meaning of parables the Bible says, is hidden. I want to see things more clearly. Instead of “hide and seek” I feel like I am always playing “hide and see it.”
It’s the same thing when it comes to life and faith and parables. I always want to see more clearly what God is trying to get me to do. And it can be especially hard to see what the parables are showing us. Would I surprise you if I suggested most of what you may have been taught about parables may be, well, wrong? Most of us have been taught that they are like little moral stories with one meaning. I think a better way to define the way Jesus used this form of story telling is to say they described reality in a way that disrupted the thinking of those who first heard them. Remember, there was 30 to 60 years from Jesus’ life to the time the Gospels were written. From the time Jesus would have told these stories and the time they were recorded in what we call the Gospels the meanings have often shifted. I see the parables as an invitation to see reality differently and to see God differently.
This morning we read what we call the parables of the mustard seed and yeast. The ending is rather abrupt. Jesus tells the two parables and turns on his heel and goes into a house. In the interest of time let me cut to the chase on this and share what may surprise you. The fact is mustard trees and yeast were not considered blessings in Jesus’ time. Mustard trees grew up like weeds, like kudzu in the south. They were not cultivated because they were of little use. Mustard wasn’t a big thing in Jewish circles until the invention of pastrami. And the minute you put yeast in flour it is only a matter of time before the flour spoils. The bread in Jesus’ time was made without yeast, because if you did not know, they did not have many double door refrigerators in Jesus’ time.
So, how about this Kingdom of Heaven Jesus talks about in the parable? Don’t we all want to go there? I will confess that I think Kenny Chesney, the country singer is on point when he sings, “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to go now.” But another writer also challenged the value of heavenly thinking. Joel Stein, a columnist for the L.A. Times once wrote that: “Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can’t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They’re basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell.”
Another theologian responded by saying, “How we imagine what the kingdom of heaven is like depends a lot on what we need the kingdom of heaven to be, which frequently hinges on factors we’d rather ignore. Our penchant for certain visualizations of the kingdom of heaven have less to do with what the Bible says and more about … how we think God should act and not how God has already acted. Our assumptions about the kingdom of heaven rely heavily on our system of rewards and not on God’s choice to bless.”
So how are weeds and rotting dough a blessing from God, you might ask? I don’t know that the answers are as simple as I might like, or you might wish. We all want simple answers don’t we? Part of the problem today is there are a lot of people who think the answers are simple. Get rid of all “woke” thinking. Put LGBTQ+ people back in the closet. Keep women in line and at home and send all liberals to Russia or wherever. This is the thinking that is loud and proud right now. It might make us so angry we forget the pain behind it, and the suffering of many who believe these things. So in the face of this hurting and pain, we can dismiss those who choose these solutions at our own risk.
Many of those people think the solution is Civil War. War never solved anything, including the first so-called “Civil War.” It did make human slavery illegal, but it didn’t stop it. It just killed thousands and thousands of young men. Yes, legal slavery was ended but the suffering of black people in slave-like conditions continued into discrimination and intimidation and suffering that goes on today despite the denials of white supremacists today. The suffering of other minorities continues. War never solves anything, it just makes the makers of weapons richer and kills a generation of innocent soldiers.
I don’t have a simple solution, and I don’t think there are any convenient solutions or explanations for how to see or understand the yeast and the mustard seed. I think Jesus used them to invite us to see God and heaven and God’s purposes differently. These questions came to me as I thought about the parables:
What is the yeast in your life, what is the mustard seed in your life? What is the inconvenient truth about God and God’s reign that grows uncomfortably in your soul? What is the truth of God that is both unsettling and amazing? To me that is what this parable invites me to think about and to look for. Jesus says God’s reign is like yeast and mustard seeds. I know that God’s presence in my life, God’s reign in my life is often unsettling and amazing. It is often disturbing and difficult deal with, like kudzu or mustard trees can be. It often challenges me to see things differently.
One of the ways this keeps playing out in my thinking and in my faith is that all those “others” that I want to hate on for being so hateful are still my siblings. They are still hurting. Aren’t I called to care for those who are hurting? I may hate the way they are being used by the powerful and the privileged, how they are being lied to about the cause of their problems and suffering, but they are still my siblings. And even if they want a civil war to kill off folks like me and maybe some of you, I know that I can’t buy into that. It is a non-solution.
We often only think about heaven as the afterlife. But the truth is Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Heaven as right now in this life. Our challenge is to think about that. If heaven is right now and if when we get to whatever we think heaven is after this life, will it be different? Where will all those people we disagree with here be? Will they be in hell? They think we will. But I expect we are all still in this together “up there,” just like we are here. If that makes you uncomfortable, congratulations. Maybe you are seeing what Jesus wanted you to see when you hear this parable.
What is the inconvenient truth about God and God’s reign that grows uncomfortably in your soul? What is the truth of God that is both unsettling and amazing? When we can see these things we may get a glimpse of the real Reign of God. Seeing may or may not be believing. The meaning of parables may indeed be hidden. But Jesus hides it to invite us to seek it and then to see it. Instead of hide and seek, it’s hide and see it. Lately it seems like I always need a new pair of glasses to see things clearly. AMEN.
Karoline Lewis, https://www.workingpreacher.org/dear-working-preacher/inviting-a-kingdom-imagination, 7/20/2014.