The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it 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.’
He 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.’
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 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.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’
It was a good thing Rob retired early. He needed a lot of counseling and his job just got in the way. After retirement, Rob would call needing some counseling and for privacy, we would head down to his boat house, get out his boat and head out on the lake. Confidentiality is really important! We would carry fishing poles, simply as a cover so no one would get suspicious and compromise the confidentiality. While we were in counseling, Rob didn’t fish for a specific fish. He fished for what he called “lake run” fish. If they ran in the lake... he would fish for them. So, as we did our confidential counseling, we drifted across the lake pulling in anything that got caught on the end of our lines.
The parable of the nets is like that too. In Greek there are different words for different nets but the word for “net” in this parable means a seine net. Seine nets aren’t picky. They pull up everything in their path and that, it turns out, is the nature of God’s Kingdom as well. God’s Kingdom gathers in ALL of creation. It’s ALL pulled up onto the beach and ALL means ALL. Then, when the sorting does finally happen at the end of time, it is the One who hauled the net who does the sorting, putting the good into the bucket and letting the bad flop around on the beach.
One of the fish we caught during counseling was called a sheepshead. Apparently, most people consider them an oily, trash fish and legally you aren’t even allowed to put them back alive if you catch one. Rob sees them differently. One time, he saw some pros cleaning a saltwater relative of this fish and they filleted it leaving the oily, dark layer of flesh on the skin and just keeping the lighter meat. Rob tried that same technique with sheepshead and found out no one could tell the difference between a sheepshead and a perch when he cleaned it that way and fried them up side by side. Most people don’t believe it... even after they see it and taste it. They insist on seeing the sheepshead as “bad” and fit only for the beach. Rob sees things differently. Rob MAKES them good and sorts them into the bucket.
That too is how God works. Like a sheepshead, we are not exactly “good” as-is, but it is God who MAKES us “good” through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. All the brokenness, sin and garbage that get in the way of us being what God created us to be in the beginning is cleaned away with Christ, leaving you, me and all of creation “good” in the eyes of the One who does the sorting.
After a morning of counseling, Rob would clean all the fish. He said he loved cleaning fish and he insisted on cleaning both what he caught and what I caught. He put the “lake run” fillets in a zip lock and they went in a cooler for me to take home. Up at their house, Rob’s wife, Sally would have lunch ready and lunch always included her fresh baked bread. The aroma filled the house. She always seemed to bake way too much bread for just us, and that meant I had to take fresh bread home with me along with the fish.
The parable of the yeast is like that too. The woman in the parable uses three measures of flour. Most people don’t realize it, but three measures will make almost 80 pounds of dough... that’s 52 loaves or enough to make over 400 sandwiches! Jesus, in this parable, portrays God as a powerful woman who kneads yeast into 80 pounds of dough BY HAND... not to make bread just for her family... not just for her immediate neighbors either... SHE is making bread for EVERYONE!
Jesus told these parables to challenge people at the core of their faith. He wanted to draw people in so deeply with a story they could relate to, that they would allow him into the very heart of their faith and there, he challenged everything the people then... and us people now... THINK we know about the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom includes all of creation. EVERYONE... without exception. The tree has room for EVERY bird. The WHOLE field is worth whatever the price. That pearl is worth EVERYTHING the man owns. The net gathers EVERYTHING in it’s path and the yeast gets worked into EVERY ounce of that outrageous amount of dough. All, Jesus tells us, really does mean ALL.
So God’s Kingdom has a place for all of creation and God has made us worthy of the Kingdom through Christ’s life, death and resurrection... BUT... there’s always a BUT... what about the fiery furnace and the weeping and gnashing of teeth? That tiny piece of this lesson gets people more worked up than all the rest combined! People obsess about who gets the bucket and who gets the beach... Who’s going to get a mansion and who’s going to end up in that fiery furnace? Inquiring minds want to know, and many want to help!
Jesus told these parables to tell us that God’s love is big enough and broad enough to gather in ALL of creation. Our calling as the Church, as the Body of Christ, is to be a SIGN of God's radically inclusive Kingdom in the here and now. Our job is to live in this world modeling the way God’s net works, modeling that tree... gathering, welcoming and creating a place for everyone we meet and treating everyone in our path as if they were a pearl of great value… like they are a treasure just waiting to be discovered. We aren't the ones who sort, we aren't the ones who decide who goes where. Our job is simply to tell the world that the One who is throwing the party has made each and every one of us into an amazingly wonderful treasure through Christ and in Christ we are all completely worthy and always welcome at God's party. Amen.