So, what is the Kingdom of God? If this were an easy question to answer, Jesus probably would not have had to use parables! The Kingdom of God is a place, but not a place. It is the present, but won’t be completed until the future. The Kingdom of God is a way of living, but none of us are equipped to live in a Kingdom way by our own power. Elusive, isn’t it? It helps me to think of the Kingdom of God as how things will be after Jesus comes a second time.
In each of our parables today, we see that the Kingdom of God is incredibly surprising. The images are almost comically abundant-the woman uses ten gallons of flour, the man finds treasure in an ordinary field, the merchant finds an incredibly valuable pearl, the fishermen pulls in a net full of every kind of fish imaginable-but what makes the Kingdom of God so surprising? With a little detective Bible study, this is something we can discover.
The lectionary is a wonderful thing, but the lectionary did not fall down from the sky one day with God’s voice booming, “This is how I want you to read the Bible.” No, actual people-Biblical and Liturgical scholars, priests and lay people got together to decide how the Bible would be divided up for Sunday readings. Now, a lot of the time I really agree with their choices, but you’ll find out every once in awhile they make a decision that drives me insane.
Not only does the lectionary leave out dozens of fabulous Old Testament stories, but the lectionary also tends to edit out troubling bits of scripture. Not always, but every once in awhile you’ll notice an ellipse (dot, dot, dot) in the middle of your Gospel reading. Look in your bulletin. Notice that ellipse, about halfway down? Do you ever wonder what didn’t make the cut? Today we’re going to find out.
Now, don’t worry, I’m not turning Presbyterian or Baptist, but I would like you to pull your pew Bibles out of their shelves and open them to page ___. On this page you’ll find Matthew 13. Our gospel reading today began at verse 33. You’ll notice that the section missing in today’s lesson is the lesson that was read last week-the explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. You’ll also notice that the lectionary cuts off the final parable a little early. Verse 49 does not actually end, “So it will be at the end of the age.” It actually ends, “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That has a little bit of a different ring to it, doesn’t it?
Now, I can understand by the creators of the lectionary wanted to edit the darker pieces out from the rest of the parables. Parables are nice. These parables about the Kingdom of God are really beautiful images and can certainly stand alone. However, the author of the Gospel of Matthew intended the Kingdom of God parables to be read alongside the darker weeds and wheat parable, and I think it is important that we read them that way. I believe the Kingdom parables lose some of their power when not matched with the weeds and wheat parable.
To refesh your memory from last week’s reading, Jesus describes a field in which wheat and weeds have been sown together. The Greek word for weed here, describes a particular kind of weed that actually looked just like wheat, so there was no way to separate them until harvest time. The wheat represents the children of God, the weeds the children of the Evil one. Ultimately, the wheat gets reaped and used for food and the weeds get reaped and used for fuel for a fire.
So, what makes the Kingdom of God so wonderful, what makes the Kingdom of God so surprising-is that there will be no evil in it. No terrorist bombings, no unjust political structures, no deception, no abuse. I don’t know about you, but I had a very strange reaction to the London Bombings a few weeks ago. Instead of being horrified, I thought, “Well, 52 victims isn’t so bad. . .” I’ve gotten so used to horrible news stories, that I expect to hear horrible news. In this world, stories of death and violence are just par for the course, rather than the shocking events they should be. What is wonderful is that this world is not the final destination for us. As children of the Kingdom of God, we belong to a place that knows no evil, no violence.
What makes me nervous about this weeds and wheat parable is this thought: What if I’M a weed??? I don’t wanna be a weed! I wanna be wheat!
While it’s easy to point out a terrorist as an evil person, I can’t help but wonder how an 18, 19 year old British Pakistani kid gets to a point in his life where he is willing to lose his life and kill others for a cause. Was he born a sociopath? Or maybe a lifetime of discrimination and mocking due to his ethnicity finally got to him? Or maybe some smooth talking terrorist cell leader persuaded him violence was the holy road to take. In any case, those bombers’ stories were probably long and complicated. I imagine they had mothers and siblings and friends who loved them, just like we do.
And if a regular guy can turn into someone who participates in an evil activity, does that mean we have the potential to somehow participate knowingly or unknowingly in evil? What if I am going to be held accountable to how my behavior affects the poor or the environment? What if some of my clothing was made by child laborers? What if one night I have too much to drink, drive home, and I end up hurting someone?
I know, I know, I think too much. My point, though, is that none of us are completely innocent, so this image of purely good people and purely evil people makes me uncomfortable. It becomes far too easy to develop an “us” and “them” mentality in which we absolve ourselves of any responsibility.
Remember, the weeds look just like the wheat-there is no easy way to distinguish them. We cannot assume that the weeds are “out there” somewhere, distant and distinct from us.
As Christians, we are called not only to assume that we are wheat, but to live like we are wheat. We are called to live like we are God’s children, like we are on this earth on borrowed time, and our call is to spread Christ’s light in every direction. We have confidence in being saved by grace, and in response we boldly live lives of integrity and goodness.
When Chuck talks about the Emmanuel Way, this way of life that involves hospitality, kindness, generosity, I think he’s getting at this idea of us being Kingdom people, wheaty people, if you will. This way of life is not about having it all together, being perfect, or even being nice. None of us can be all of those things all of the time. Being Kingdom people is about knowing who we belong to, and acting accordingly.
We live in a liminal space-We know that at the end of the story, God wins, but in the meantime, we live in the midst of a weedy world. Our call is to show the world that death and destruction is not the end of the story. Our call is to wait eagerly for the Kingdom of God and for its wonderful, abundant surprises. Our call is to look for signs of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Our call is to BE the signs of the Kingdom of God here on earth. Amen.