I love preaching on parables. I like preaching on big days like Christmas and Easter, too. And momentous encounters like a dramatic healing or a powerful miracle are also fun to preach on. But I get bogged down in long exposition. “I am the bread of life…” Yeah, yeah, we get it already. Round and round statements like “Whoever loses his life will find it” leave me wanting some sort of direction. Parables are the answer to my summer-time homiletical blues.
The kingdom of heaven is like... That’s the way Matthew introduces the kingdom concept that Jesus focuses most of his teaching ministry on. Not the kingdom of God but the kingdom of heaven. They’re the same thing, of course, but the nuance is different, and, more importantly, the way we hear it is different. Heaven, in the mind of the 21st-century reader, is a place. It’s the place where “good people” like you and me are going (sarcasm implied). But surely that’s not what Jesus has in mind.
If Jesus were describing the “kingdom of heaven” as if it were a physical place, then his parable would lead us to believe that heaven has a bunch of wheat and weeds growing in it. But that’s not right. We get that. Parables are glimpses into a bigger truth. So why then do we limit our understanding of the kingdom of heaven to a specific place rather than a state of being that is defined by the establishment of God’s perfect reign?
Tomorrow, I’ll get into what the parable actually teaches about this kingdom, but, before I do, I need to stop and remember that whatever it says isn’t supposed to be a simple picture of a simple place. That’s why Jesus used parables. Matthew lets us know that Jesus is describing the “kingdom of heaven,” which gives us a chance to talk about heaven not in terms that popular culture would depict but with the strange, gospel characteristics that Jesus uses to describe it.