Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Scattergun

I kind of wish I were preaching this Sunday. But maybe I can say that only because I’m not. The gospel reading from Matthew (found here) is a collection of mostly one-line parables, through which Jesus attempts to portray the kingdom of heaven. It’s a scattergun approach—a little like a preacher’s sermon. “How many different ways can try to get this across? Hopefully one of these images will stick.” Maybe it will be a challenge for preachers to narrow it down to one approach, but I love the fact that the lesson as a whole suggests that the kingdom needs to be “explained” in lots of different ways.

Today’s gospel lesson from the Daily Office is from Mark (4:21-34), and it contains (arguably) four different descriptions of the kingdom—perhaps a preview or a practice-run for Sunday. The lamp on a stand. The measure you give will be the measure you get. The unexplained seed. The mustard seed. The last of these four is the most familiar to me. The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed—the smallest seed becomes the biggest garden plant. Maybe Jesus intended that little description to stand on its own, but I think it’s worth remembering that it’s grounded amidst several others.

My favorite, I think, is the unexplained seed. “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter his seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how.” That’s the kingdom as I know it today. It’s happening all around me, and I’m a part of it, but I don’t know how it all works. It’s up to me, but it’s not up to me. Only God makes it grow. But I still play a part in the story even if I don’t really understand how it all works.

But that’s only one way of looking at the kingdom. There is no one image to explain it, and maybe that’s why the unexplained seed is my favorite within this passage. It takes a lot of different looks to express the magnitude of something we still can’t comprehend. It is something tiny becoming huge. It is something bright to be shared with everyone. It is something that multiplies—more to those who have and none to those who have naught. The kingdom is something that invites us to consider and reconsider it to no end.

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