30 July 2017

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

“The kingdom of heaven is like …” (vv. 31, 33, 44, 45, 47, 52)

Psalm: Psalm 105


Today's Bible passage offers us an abundance of parables; which, in itself, says something of what "the kingdom is heaven is like". They indicate the overflowing, life-creating love that characterises the kingdom whilst also pointing to its richness, complexity and transcendence. The kingdom of heaven is present, bursting forth from the smallest, most insignificant or familiar place; and yet it is beyond our language and our understanding. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens in the stories about the mustard seed, the yeast, the hidden treasure, the merchant in search of fine pearls, the net with fish of every kind and, we infer, so much more. The kingdom of heaven is growth and transformation, discovery and joy, reordering of priorities and recognition of God in our midst.

The parables of the mustard seed (verses 31-32) and the yeast (verse 33) are sometimes referred to as parables of growth, and we are familiar with the idea that from something so very tiny a massive plant can grow or a huge amount of food can be produced: that so much life and nourishment results from something so tiny, so easily overlooked or disregarded. Nevertheless, is the idea so familiar that we receive it as such and fail to let its wisdom fire our hearts, hopes and imaginations?

In the parables of the hidden treasure (verse 44) and the pearl-seeking merchant (verses 45-46), we hear stories about joyful discoveries, whether found unexpectedly in the ordinary routine of life or after a long search. Both discoveries not only bring great joy, but also lead to a reordering of values and a reorientation of life. The hearer (or reader) understands: on discovering God all else takes second place. Yet how easy it is for us, like the narrator in R S Thomas' The Bright Field, to go our way and forget it?

The final parable of the net (verses 47-50) contains a new element. Fish of every kind are gathered in. All are welcome, but at the end they are sorted. We are offered a clear depiction of the final judgment. This is where the parables lead us. At the end of the story there is a reckoning and we are held to account. This reminder gives a sharper edge to our reflection on what has gone before. It is not enough just to speculate, or wonder, or hope in the promise the parables contain, but we are prompted to give attention to reorienting our lives to God and to reflect on how that is lived out day by day. The kingdom of heaven puts things into perspective, bringing joy but also demanding a response.

To Ponder

  • Where have you discovered the 'hidden treasure' of the kingdom of heaven?
  • What helps you to remember those times when you have experienced something of the kingdom of heaven, both the joy and the challenge?
  • What helps you to orientate your life to God? And what stops you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Nicola Price-Tebbutt

Nicola Price-Tebbutt is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has previously served in circuit in Sheffield and as a tutor at Hartley Victoria College in Manchester.