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Have You Understood All This?

St. John’s Lutheran Church
30 July 2023 + Lectionary 17a (9 Pentecost)
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
Rev. Josh Evans



“Have you understood all this?”

What a stupid question.

With all due respect to Jesus, you can’t exactly unload five rapid-fire parables like that and expect your hearers to understand immediately, without question.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been playing around in the 13th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, beginning with the parable of the sower … and then jumping ahead to the explanation of the parable of the sower. Then we heard the parable of the weeds and the wheat … and then jumped ahead to the explanation of the parable of the weeds and the wheat …

… and you get the point: These parables are dense. Almost like riddles. They require explanation precisely because the disciples don’t understand them immediately.

The first two mini-parables we hear this morning – the mustard seed and the yeast – fall between last week’s parable of the weeds and its subsequent explanation, which is followed immediately by the next three rapid-fire mini-parables of a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value, and a fishing net thrown into the sea.

“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks, when he’s finally done rattling off parables.

Here’s my theory: Behind that deceptively simple “yes” is an absolutely exasperated bunch of disciples: “Enough parables!” they think to themselves. “If we just say ‘yes,’ maybe he’ll stop talking.”

But really: “Have you understood all this?”

Of course not. How could they? Jesus is talking about deep stuff about what God and God’s reign are like:

A sower that is extravagant – wasteful, even – in sowing seed, no matter the terrain, because that’s what God’s love is like: There is enough – and then some – to go around, so that all might experience it, no matter who they are.

A field of wheat and weeds that are allowed to grow together, not because the farmer is bad at their job, but because the farmer is patient — because that’s what God, who is full of mercy and abounding in steadfast love, grace, and forgiveness, is like.

That kind of extravagant love is mind-blowing and life-changing. That’s the point of the kingdom on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven.

Have you understood all this? Of course not. That kind of extravagant love doesn’t make any sense – but it doesn’t make it any less true.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there:

The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed that takes over like an invasive species until it is everywhere.

The kingdom of heaven is like a handful of yeast mixed into “three measures” – or about 144 cups – of flour – enough to yield slices of bread for over 400 sandwiches, by one commentator’s estimation.

This kingdom of heaven, this commentator says, “is like a woman who wants to do more than feed her family. The kingdom … is like a woman who wants to feed the village … [and] who wants to feed the world.”

Extravagant grace and abundant love…

…like a net cast into the sea that catches and pulls in fish of every kind … as valuable (at least) as a treasure hidden in a field, or even one fine pearl.

Have you understood all this?

***

Admittedly, we still have to grapple with the judgment present in these parables. Twice now in as many Sundays we have heard that ominous-sounding phrase: “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Christians have a way of getting hyper-fixated on tiny details like that – usually in an effort to determine who’s in and who’s out – and, of course, to make sure that we’re a part of the “in” crowd.

But proportionally speaking, those couple of verses take up just a fraction of the seven parables that have spanned over fifty verses in a single chapter.

Seven parables that, over and over again, double down on the extravagant, abundant nature of God’s limitless love.

That’s the point.

Not who’s in and who’s out – like the farm workers who so desperately want to uproot all the weeds to the detriment of the wheat.

The point is that the reign of God’s love is too abundant to put limits on, too plentiful to be concerned with where it lands or who “deserves” it, too surprising to be predictable or ever fully understood.

That’s what the kingdom of heaven is like.

I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand a love like that. But it is certainly a love that each of us has been invited to fully experience – here and now.

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