This is the order Jesus gives for Christian life: we find the treasure, this fills us with joy, so we sell all our possessions (which are worth a fraction of the treasure), and we acquire (take ownership) of the treasure (Mat 13:44). The treasure is there at the start and the end; the joy is the immediate consequence of finding the treasure; and the sacrifice of possessions is really no sacrifice at all. This is the Christian life. Let’s find our joy in Christ!
Matthew 13:31-33 presents two tiny parables about two tiny things in the world: yeast and mustard seeds:
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about 30 kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
These parables emphasise:
Jesus’ interest in the little things of life and God’s desire to work with the small things we bring to the Kingdom of God. Jesus speaks about little things regularly: sparrows that are worth so much, faith the size of a mustard seed, the individual hairs on our head which God counts, little children to whom belongs the Kingdom of God.
God’s capacity – through the power of Holy Spirit and the love of Christ – to transform little things into big things, helpful things, things that build the Kingdom of God. A mustard seed grows into a large tree that provides shelter to humans and animals. Grains of yeast that turn a lump of heavy dough into an airy loaf of bread.
Recipe for poppy seed rolls
500 g all-purpose (cake) flour
1 sachet instant yeast
1 tsp salt
100 g granulated sugar
250 ml milk lukewarm
80 g butter, melted
200 g poppy seeds, ground in a blender until they form a paste
100 g butter
200 g walnuts, ground in a blender until they just begin to form a paste
100 g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
10 ml ground cinnamon
4 egg whites
180 g butter unsalted, softened, or margarine
360 g powdered sugar also known as icing (confectioner’s) sugar
120 g cream cheese at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
0.25 tsp salt
Mix the first four dry ingredients, then add in the next three wet ingredients. Mix the dough and knead for 10 minutes, until elastic and smooth. Place in a bowl, smear with a bit of oil and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise. (Hint: heat your oven to 100 degrees Celsius, then switch it off, and place your bowl in the oven.)
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pot and cook the ground poppy seeds in the butter for 2 minutes, then mix in the remaining ingredients to form a thick black paste.
Knock the risen dough down and roll out into a large thin rectangle, about 50-60 cm wide. Spread the poppy seed paste evenly over the dough. Roll the dough to form a long sausage about 50-60 long. (If it is a bit short, gently massage it until it reaches the required length.) Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into about 35 even pieces (about 1.5cm each).
Line a roasting tin with parchment and lay the circular buns in the pan. Prove for about 30 minutes or until about double in size. Bake at 180 C for about 20 minutes until golden brown.
Blend the frosting ingredients, beating well with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. When the rolls are cooled, spread generously with frosting.
If the rolls are a couple of days old, heat in the microwave for 15 second to get them back to a fresh state.
Today’s message is from Matthew 13: 24-30, in which Jesus tells the parable of the weeds. It is followed, later in the chapter, by Jesus’ explanation of the parable (Matthew 13: 36-43). Preachers are generally expected to ‘have all the answers’ when they preach the Word of God, but in truth, preachers are just people like all other people.
The passage set for today is – for me – an exceptionally difficult passage, because (a) Jesus’ message seems to contradict his own consistent message through word and action and (b) Jesus appears to be telling us to do nothing about evil in our midst, but rather to leave it until the end of the age, the Day of judgement. If we were to live according to this passage, we would have allowed evil to flourish over the past 2000+ years since Jesus preached this message.
So what are we do with a message that seems fundamentally wrong. Was Jesus mistaken?
I encourage you listen to the audio recording or watch the video to see my grappling with the message and how I try to make sense of it. Evil in the world – and evil in our midst (our family, community, workplace, church, etc.) – is a serious matter and warrants our critical engagement and reflection.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
This passage offers us two sets of verbs:
Offer, sacrifice, worship – which speak to giving ourselves to God
Transform, renew – which speak to an inward-focused process
The passage also offers us two nouns:
Our bodies – which speaks to the embodied being that we are, crafted from clay and in-breathed by God’s Spirit
Our minds – which speaks to the immaterial being that we are, mind, emotion, thought, spirit
Together, these two verbs and these two nouns call us towards a complete offering of ourselves – a surrender, a relinquishment – to God.
Matthew 13: 3b-19 presents to us the well-known parable of the sower, in which seeds are sown on four types of soil – only one of which is good soil that produces good crops. Usually our sermons focus on the types of soil. Today, I’d like us to focus on some of the key characters, and imagine that we are that character.
1. The Sower. The key thing that stands out about the Sower is that he is careless. He scatters seed carelessly, without thinking. He is given a bag of precious seed, that presumably had significant value and a limited supply. And he scatters it left, right and centre without thought for where it might land.
If we are the Sower, then God is calling us to be responsible for the opportunities God gives us to do the work of God in the world. We should not be careless; we should be responsible. The opportunities we are give to do God’s work are precious and we should treat them all, even the tiny ones, with a sense of gravitas and reverence.
2. The Soil. The key thing that stands out about the Soil is that it is not conducive. Some of it is compressed and hard, exposing seeds to the elements and birds. Some of it is rocky and shallow, not allowing seeds to take root. Some of it is riddled with weeds that dominate the soil and do not allow the seeds the opportunity to breathe and grow. It is only the fourth Soil that Jesus says is ‘good’. It is good because it is able to create a conducive environment for the seeds to grow and mature.
If we are the Soil, then God is calling us to be receptive to the voice of God. Jesus ends his parable with, “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” Some commentators argue that the soil refers to our ears – it is our capacity to be hear God’s voice, to receptive to the seeds God drops in our ears, that Jesus is calling for.
3. The Seeds. Arguably the hero of the story is the Seed. Ultimately, the Seed is central. The key thing that stands out about the Seed is that is wasted. We know that seeds are a precious commodity; there are seed banks around the world that serve to preserve this precious commodity. But in this story, three quarters of the Seed is wasted – it cannot grow, cannot flourish, cannot produce a crop. Only one quarter of the Seed is productive. Imagine if only 10 hours of the work you do each week is actually useful or productive, and that 30 hours are wasted. How disillusioning that would be!
If we are the Seed, then God is calling us to be fruitful. Jesus wants us to be productive – to produce more than we started with. He is looking for a small input and a large output. Indeed, he quantifies the productivity: “it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown”. That’s a big increase from the current 25%. And now Jesus says, if we have ears, then hear!
This is a central message of this parable: we must be fruitful and productive.
In Matthew 10:7-14, Jesus sends out his 12 disciples on their first solo mission, and his instructions seem to be grounded in this message:
Jesus is not saying, be arrogant, insolent, obnoxious, offensive, dogmatic or judgemental. But he is saying, be brave, be courageous, be reckless, jump in the deep end!
Here’s what we are to do:
We proclaim the good news that God is present in the midst of human life. God is near, right here, present, engaged.
We heal, cleanse, raise and cast out illnesses in all its manifestations, at both personal and social levels. Healing is, in Jesus’ understanding and practice, not only physical, but also relational and social.
We are generous in our investment in the lives of others – freely we have received, freely we give. We don’t hold back, we don’t over think, we don’t over risk manage.
We don’t take provisions with us, we don’t over plan, we don’t pamper ourselves. We simply go – a bit reckless.
We don’t take from the people we go to. We don’t go to enrich ourselves. We go to give.
We find people who are receptive to what we have to offer, and we spend time with them. And if people are not receptive, we just move on, shake the dust off our feet. It is almost blasé – if people want to listen, we talk with them; if they don’t, we don’t worry, we just move on.
Be audacious, be courageous, be reckless, be blasé. Don’t worry, don’t over plan, don’t over think. Jump in! Be brave!
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
It seems strange that Jesus’ solution to our feeling burdened is to offer us a yoke, which is a heavy wooden pole used to join two oxen together so they can plough fields. This does not sound like a relief! However, in v30, Jesus equates the yoke with the burden. The truth is, we are already yoked – yoked to and burdened by the world and its worries. What Jesus offers is to replace our own heavy yoke with his yoke, which is ‘easy’ and ‘light’.
A yoke connects two animals together, so that they can work in partnership with each other, as they walk through their work in the world. This is what Jesus offers us: to be yoked to him, in partnership, walking together as we journey through life’s challenges. The idea of working together with Christ, as a team, as partners, is quite remarkable.
The idea of working together, of walking together, leads us to the next point, which is to “learn from” Jesus. Not “learn about me” but “learn from me”. He invites us to see how he moves through the world and to learn from that. We learn from what he says – particularly in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew chapters 5-7, which came shortly before today’s reading. And we learn from how he behaves – how he interacts with those who are powerful and oppressive and those who are meek and humble. Chapter 11 speaks a great deal about these two groups. What better way to learn from a master, than to be yoked to them.
Jesus chooses to emphasise that we should learn from his gentleness and humility: “for I am gentle and humble in heart“. It is remarkable that God, the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, who co-created the universe with the Father and the Spirit, chooses to describe himself as gentle and humble (or simple). His use of ‘in heart’ suggests that these qualities are essential to his being – they describe who he is, not merely how he acts. He is, deep in his being, gentle and humble. If God the Son chooses these qualities as essential to a description of himself, how much more should we not embody these same qualities of humility and gentleness.
The result of all this is that we will find rest for our soul. For those who are weary and burdened, soul-rest is very much what we need – rest, refreshment, deep peace. God promises us this frequently, e.g.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3)
The sovereign Lord says: I myself will tend my sheep. I will make them lie down.I will search for the lost. I will bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured. I will strengthen the weak… I will shepherd the flock with justice. (Ezekiel 34:15-16, with slight rephrasing)
This is the kind of rest that we get, when we put down our burden, and take on Christ’s yoke, and walk together with him.
Matthew 9:1-8 tells the story of a paralysed man, brought by his friends to Jesus. In verse 2, Jesus says to him, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” In most cases, Jesus heals people when they are brought to him. It seems to be almost an instinctive response – to reach out, touch and heal.
Why then does Jesus here notheal the man, but rather forgive him his sins?
Perhaps, for this man, the crux of his difficulty in life was not his paralysis, so much as his grappling with some aspect of sin or unforgiveness. It seems that Jesus puts his finger on the heart of this man’s concern. Truly, we don’t know, because we are told so little about the man’s backstory.
The root causes of our issues are not always on the surface. It is not always the obvious or what you can see that is ‘the issue’ that we need to deal with. Often, we need to go behind the issue to see what may be hidden, and to go deep into the root of the issue. A surface healing may do nothing more than to perpetuate the hiding what of what is behind or beneath, of that which is most in need of God’s love. Part of the Christian journey is to face the darkness of sin and suffering – the dark night of the soul. It is often in this dark place that God is able to work for our good.
In the Matthew 9 story, while it may appear that Jesus is ignoring the man’s suffering, he is, in fact, going straight to the heart of it. He actually says, ‘Take heart“. Or in other translations, ‘Be of courage’ (the word courage coming from the old French and Latin for heart – cor). Jesus goes to the man’s heart, rather than to the external. He goes behind the paralysis, and goes deep into his heart. And in response to this insight, Jesus proclaims his sins forgiven.
The man did not come for forgiveness, did not ask for forgiveness, did not confess his sins, did not show remorse for anything. It is not clear that he had any faith at all of his own. Thus, the forgiveness that Jesus proclaims is entirely the work of God – not the work of faith. God in Christ chooses to forgive this man’s sins and in so doing brings about an inner healing. He is made right with God, he is set free from guilt, he is made whole within himself.
By the time we get to verse 6, where Jesus says to the man, “Get up, take your mat and go home”, he has already been healed. Jesus does not say, “You are healed of your paralysis”. He simply says, “get up”, and the man gets up. He has already been healed! His paralysis seems to have been cured back in verse 2, as an outworking of the inner healing that Jesus had worked in his heart.
If there is a general principle that we can draw from this encounter, it is that God invites us, when we are suffering and struggling with life, to go behind the suffering and to go deep into the suffering, into the heart. There is healing in this. God meets us there in the darkness. We become receptive to God’s healing work, God’s forgiveness, God’s peace-giving.