Scribes of the Kingdom
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
He 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 thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
‘Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked.
‘Yes,’ they replied.
He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’
Now and again I have had the privilege of encouraging someone on the verge of coming to a living faith in Jesus. I am doing this at the moment. It is such a privilege, but it does have its challenges. It is sometime hard to give clear responses to big questions.
With my questioning friend and with you, fellow members of the community of Jesus, in one sense I feel like I am the lawyer hired by Dale Kerrigan in the movie, The Castle, who when asked by the judge in the courtroom about what part of the Constitution his legal argument relies on as he defends the compulsory acquisition of Mr Kerrigan’s home (his ‘castle’) by the Federal government, can only say, “There is no section in the Constitution … it’s just the vibe of the thing. That’s what I’m getting at. It’s just the vibe. It’s the Constitution. It’s Mabo. It’s justice. It’s law. It’s the vibe!”
Thankfully, Jesus goes a bit further than just, “the vibe’!
But I always note that Jesus does not really answer every question or challenge with an easy answers. He seems to ‘keep them guessing’.
He so often responds with these little images or stories – ‘parables’, we hear again today. I guess he knows that as soon as you provide a clear answer to a big question the conversation is finished and there may not be any more room for learning because no one is searching anymore?
Jesus seemed to be proclaiming a whole new side to God for the Jewish people around him, and a very challenging God to the Roman/Greek speaking people. Jesus did not fit either, as Paul later reflects:
“Jews demand signs from God and Greeks demand wisdom but we proclaim Jesus crucified” (1Corinthians 1:22)
We hear five little images that unlike the previous two about sowing and the wheat and the weeds, do not come with a ready explanation. We are challenged by Jesus to see what these mean for ourselves…
The kingdom of heaven is like:
- a mustard seed,
- yeast in dough,
- a hidden treasure,
- a merchant who searches for and finds fine pearls, and
- a net full of fish that end up getting sorted between the good and the bad.
A mustard seed — size really doesn’t matter
The “smallest of all seeds,” the mustard seed grows into a tree (Matthew 13:32).
The size of the beginning and the growth into full maturity is being highlighted.
Something of small and unnoticed beginning can grow large and have large affect. Jesus himself is like that. He is beginning small but will bring an entirely new creation eventually.
‘From little things big things grow’, as Paul Kelly sung.
The next mention of the mustard seed in the gospel can be found in 17:20 where Jesus tells his disciples that the faith of a mustard seed can move mountains. Like when the mustard seed is mentioned again by Jesus in Matthew 17:20, Jesus is saying that what is seemingly invisible can have an overwhelming impact. He will produce a very large yield. Anyone in this new kingdom will do the same. Small things are important and useful to God.
Yeast — transformed to rise above
This kingdom, this new thing, this new start, and new life in this new community of Jesus will transform the existing life. Like yeast, has a power of its own. This kingdom will be transforming and uplifting of the existing things. Without God’s new king, God’s new gift, God’s new life, old existing life will be lesser, flatter, duller.
Hidden Treasure — joy unspeakable
The kingdom life in which we live is like hidden treasure that has been found because it brings joy. This man
“…in his joy goes and sells all that he has and buys the field” (13:44)
in which that hidden treasure to be found.
This person is so thrilled to be included in this community of forgiveness that he risks everything else in his life – money, power, safety, security, possessions, name, health to obtain more of this king and his kingdom.
In exchange for the possibility of finding more treasure, and so, joy, he gives everything else up. As such, the kingdom of heaven is not simply joy; it is a joy that is worth all that you have.
A Merchant — a valuable treasure
Like the man who finds a hidden treasure, the merchant who is searching for a pearl sells all that he has to purchase it. This kingdom of the new right here in the midst of the old is a treasure; it is valuable.
The way in which you can tell if you or someone else values this new life in Jesus is that you or they search for it, ask for it, long for it, pursue it and give up other searching and paying and sacrificing to other things and people to get this Jesus and his new kingdom. Searching and seeking is how this kingdom is received.
A Net — all-inclusive
This life with this Saviour and his people is like a net. The net….
“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” (Matthew 13:47-48).
This kingdom community is diverse and inclusive of all kinds of people (wheat and weeds?). But there is some process of ‘weeding out’ or separating the good from the bad that will be at play … Thankfully, we don’t do this sorting!
The angels (messengers of God) will come to “separate the evil from the righteous” (13:49).
Phew! I don’t have to decide who is in and who is out. I just go fishing!
But there will be a complete accounting for all people and for some this will end in ‘gnashing of teeth and weeping”: or sadness and anger. You weep when you are grieving for what you have lost. You grind your teeth when you are upset because you are very anxious or just white-hot angry because you have missed the boat on something very good and there is no going back.
But what about this ‘Scribe’ image? The Scribe hand copies and interprets the biblical text for others. Jesus wraps up the previous little images with this one.
“Therefore every scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).
Because the kingdom is in the mall things and grow, because it is valuable and worth pursuing, because it has a power of its own that transforms people, because it is on the search looking to include everyone but also holding everyone to final account, people of the kingdom are like scribes of the bible.
These scribes in Jesus’ day were very important. They are people who carried the calling to mine the wisdom of the Word of God, both the old and the new, and speak what they found. They had authority to share God’s word and were trained to do so.
I think that is me and I think that is you.
We together are responsible for searching God’s word on everything and sharing it with each other.
I am sure that you are a scribe by virtue of your baptism into this kingdom community.
As scribes of the law of love written on our hearts, we share this role of bringing the new we know into the old we know for the sake of the people we know.
We need training. Making sure you are schooled up in the biblical word is our responsibility. Once a week for an hour won’t cut it. We do need personal investment in time and focus to bring the new into the old for the people we love.
And the New things of Jesus are the main thing; the transforming thing that bring change and hope and love into flat, dull and painful lives.
‘The new’ is what shapes everything now. Jesus says, bring ‘the new and the old’. You would normally say bring “the old and the new”. Jesus is the ‘new’. His ‘new’ is promise, hope, cross, resurrection over death, teaching, life, forgiveness…. That is how ‘new Jesus’ shapes the old groaning dying world with its desperate or prideful persons.
So, as his scribe of the Word of Jesus written in the Scriptures on my heart, the new determines my decisions, my focus, my behaviour, my thinking, my whole life.
This is a challenge for us. We default to the old ways. We know the old world and since we know it we find it more comfortable and secure to simply stay in the old, the past, the known, and let it determine the new.
So, we maintain how we do a thing, what we keep seeking, what we buy and sell, what we give away or keep, what we let go or endlessly tell because it seems safer and it is a little easier.
But this new way of Jesus is like yeast. It does things. It transforms people. He has a power of his own that changes things and changes us if we listen and respond.
This new way of Jesus’ brings the very things we most want to have – joy – a deep sense of joy in our life, our work, ourselves, our homes, our friendships, no matter what is happening.
We want that pearl of great price, we will sell up to buy that property because we know the treasure of life to the full and life beyond life here and now in the old is there.
But have you sold up anything in your life for this new life lately?
Would you seek this king and his kingdom at the expense of not seeking other things and people?
Would you allow the yeast in – enough to transform you into a new person even still loving with the old ways and things so that they become second, not first?
Friend, the new has come. He is yeast and like yeast he is making people rise.
It is our calling to be his scribe: to carefully bring out the new transforming the old with gentleness and respect, lest we pull up the wheat that is growing.
Scribe well, friend. In the little things, live your faith. Mix widely with your net. Find the joy of the new right here in your old. Carry him in words and deeds.
He will work through you, he says, like yeast through the dough. In this is your treasure and even more as you bring his joy of found treasure to someone else.