God’s future is not in our hands

Pentecost 7 – 2014

Matthew 13:44-52

Marian Free

 In the name of God whose future is not in our hands. Amen.

You have probably observed that chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel consists of a collection of parables that have some common themes. The parables of the sower, the mustard seed and the leaven all have to do with growth. No matter how carelessly the seed is thrown, the gospel will grow exponentially when it lands on the right soil. With little or no human input, the kingdom of heaven will grow miraculously. The parables of the wheat and the weeds and of the dragnet are reminders that good and evil exist side by side both in the world and in ourselves. We are reminded that only God can distinguish the good from the bad and therefore only God is in a position to judge. The parables about the treasure and the pearl indicate that people can come across the kingdom both by accident and by diligent searching. When someone does find the Kingdom, that person will be so entranced that he or she will give everything they have in order to possess it. Finally, the saying about the scribe suggests that in the light of the Kingdom a person’s wealth will no longer be perceived to be of any worth.

In the midst of these parables of growth and desire, there are warnings or reminders that not everyone will receive the gospel with the same passion or enthusiasm. In fact, no matter how widely the gospel is spread, there will be many that hear the Gospel, but who actively reject it. That is to be expected. The parable of the weeds and the parable of the dragnet provide a reminder that In the present, believers and unbelievers will co-exist, and an assurance that there will come a time when unbelievers no longer have a place. These two parables occur only in Matthew’s gospel and are told with Matthew’s particularly florid language: “the angels will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:42, 50).

In placing these parables together, the author of Matthew appears to be trying to answer the questions: “If the kingdom of God has come, why are there those who do not believe? and If the Kingdom of God has come, why does evil continue to exist in the world.” Placed together in this way the parables provide a number of answers to the question: firstly, it should be expected that the response to the gospel will be varied – some will respond enthusiastically and others will not. Secondly, those who have believed do not have to worry about those who do not – the Kingdom will continue to grow – mysteriously and secretly. Thirdly those who respond to the gospel and those who do not will co-exist in the world until such time as God chooses to separate them. There is no point in being concerned about such things because those who do believe have a gift that is beyond compare.

It is this last that is the focus of today’s gospel. Leaving aside the parable of the dragnet (which repeats the theme of last week’s gospel) we have two and a half parables all of which make a similar point about the inestimable worth of the kingdom. The treasure is an accidental find, but creates such joy in the one who discovers it that that person sells everything in order to possess it. The pearl is a treasure that has been much sought after and when at last it is found, the seeker sells everything to make it their own. Matthew seems to be implying that those who already believe need not be anxious about those who do not. The worth of the kingdom is such that those who seek it and those who simply come across it, will know its inestimable worth and do all that they can to obtain it, just as those who have already become disciples will have cast out all their treasure – the new and the old for it no longer has any hold over them.

Matthew was speaking to a time and place vastly different from our own, but he could just as well be addressing this chapter to us. We live in a time when fewer and fewer people are responding to the gospel and in which we have our own questions as to why it is that people do not believe. We are constantly looking for new ways to engage with the world around us and asking ourselves whether we can or should do things differently to make our faith and or our worship more attractive. These are important questions and we need to prayerfully consider whether what we do and how we practice our faith are consistent with the gospel. At the same time we should never despair. God’s future does not depend on us nor is it necessarily tied to that of the church. God who sent Jesus into the world is more than capable of getting the attention of humankind should that be necessary. God will continue to make the Kingdom of heaven known in the most unlikely and likely of places and where that Kingdom takes root is will continue to grow secretly and mysteriously. Good and bad, believer and unbeliever will continue to exist together until such time as God will separate one from another. Some people will continue to stumble on the Kingdom as if by accident and others will continue to seek it out and those who find it will know at once that it is worth all that they have.

If it is we who are the scribes who have been trained for the kingdom, let us truly understand the worth of what we have received and let go of anything that we value more highly than the privilege of knowing and being known by God. Who knows – if others see how much the kingdom means to us whether they might not seek it for themselves, or if, stumbling across our contentedness they might abandon their present pursuits and join us in ours.

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