First Mennonite Church
October 3, 2021
Parables About the Kingdom of Heaven
Text: Matthew 13:31-33; 44-50
Today we will start with a new series. This time will be on the parables of Jesus.
In Jewish circles, parables were used, and continue to be used, as teaching tools. Rabbis use stories to help their disciples understand a point in a lesson. Once, a rabbi lamented that telling stories to non-Jewish people is a difficult task. He said, “If you tell a story to Westerner or Gentile, two inevitable questions will follow: Is the story true? Did it really happen? But if you tell a story to a Jewish audience, they will ask, ‘What does it mean?’”
Jesus also used parables as teaching tools. But as the rabbi observed about the common view Westerners have regarding parables, let us not begin to worry about whether or not the stories were true events. Let us try to find their meaning, especially because these pertain to the kingdom of God. But there is, also, another warning Jesus himself gives us regarding the parables he told.
When his disciples asked him the reason for speaking in parables, Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables:
Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand . . .
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.”
Although he said this about outsiders, there is something we need to remind ourselves regarding parables. We have read them so many times. We have heard many sermons about them. And we might be tempted to believe that there is no more novelty to hear in them or there is nothing more to learn from them, that we have fully understood them all. That is, we can be tempted to see the parables as a walnut shell of last year’s harvest of which we ate its contents long ago. Which, if we think of the parables in that way, we will risk leaving this place without learning anything. So, my invitation to you is to come and hear Jesus tell these parables, as if it were the first time you are hearing them. Try putting yourself in the shoes of their characters. Try putting yourself in the situations of his original audience. And let us remember that Jesus told his parables to bring about action, a response to God’s invitation. Jesus told these parables to raise awareness about God’s presence and work, which Jesus calls the kingdom of God. Jesus told these parables to illustrate how God works from within, quietly, yet powerfully transforming everything. Through these parables, Jesus invites us to be watchful about the world in which God is working. We might be surprised and excited when we discover the work of God in our midst. So, let us open our eyes, ears, but above everything, let us open our heart to the words of Jesus.
Today, we will only be introducing the theme of the kingdom of God, which the parables will help us understand what the kingdom of heaven is and does.
Matthew 13:31-35 and 44-45
The Mustard Seed and The Yeast
31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 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.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
The Hidden Treasure and the Precious Pearl
44 “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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
(Next Sunday, we will reflect on the parables themselves)
What is the kingdom of heaven?
To begin with, even the parables do not make statements about what it is. The parables only make comparisons, give hints and glimpses, but not clear statements of how or what is the kingdom of heaven. The word “kingdom” itself, for most of us is not a familiar institution. Kingdoms only exist where kings rule. And the combination of this word with another even more unfamiliar—heaven, only makes Jesus’ proclamation more challenging to grasp. Christians, more than any other group of people, are the ones who speak about heaven. However, even when heaven is often described, as someone put it, “a sort of luxury hotel or beautiful paradise,” which if it were a literal place where we can go to that’s being offered, no one would refuse to go and enjoy. However, even Christian do not seem so eager to go to heaven. It only begins to be seriously considered when living on earth seems not possible anymore that people think about heaven.
In other words, even Christians are a bit ambivalent in their attitude towards heaven. On the other hand, we often think of it as a reward. Thinking of heaven in this way seems to imply that it is something we have earned; it is something we have worked for and therefore, we deserve a place in heaven.
Jesus announced the kingdom of heaven, not only a kingdom and neither only heaven. The phrase “kingdom of heaven” appears 32 times in Matthew alone. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of God” four times. Interestingly, in Luke the phrase “kingdom of God” also appears 32 times. In the same parable Jesus where speaks of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew, in Luke’s version, Jesus uses the phrase “the kingdom of God.” This means that both phrases are interchangeable and mean the same thing.
We should remember that when John the Baptist began his short ministry, he introduced the phrase. Both, he and Jesus, came calling for repentance “because the kingdom of heaven is at hand/near (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). Throughout Jesus’ teaching and preaching, the message about the kingdom of heaven played defining role in God’s agenda for the world.
It requires repentance to enter into it (Matthew 4:17)
It is reserved for those who are poor in spirit (5:3) (Blessed are the poor . . .)
It is for those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness (5:10). (blessed are . . . )
We must turn and become like children if we are ever to enter it (18:3, 4).
It is a place where those who have riches have difficulty entering in (19:23, 24).
The penalty is harsh for those who do not want to enter into it, but also prevent others from entering (23:13-15). Woe to you . . . .
However, it is also the kingdom of heaven that the righteous will inherit. Those who gave a drink to the thirsty, who welcomed the stranger, those who clothed the naked, and those who visited the sick and those “doing time” will inherit the kingdom, Jesus says.
Jesus also gives instruction to pray for the kingdom of God to come, so that his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So again, what is the kingdom of heaven or God? First, a better word for kingdom might be the word reign or rule. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven means the reign of God—the place or people where God rules. The coming of Jesus manifested the rule or reign of God coming to the world. Jesus called for repentance because the kingdom of heaven is at hand or near. Through his works of power, Jesus gave evidence that the kingdom of God had arrived. “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you,” Jesus said in Luke 11:20.
The reign of God is present today. Being repentance the appropriate response and doorway into this kingdom, it means we have entered into it. The repented community is the place where God reign is manifested, today. Every congregation that has responded to Jesus’ call and has given to him complete allegiance becomes the sphere of the reign of God. But although, the church is not the kingdom of God, it is, however, the people with the greatest potential to reflect the values, the power, and the character of kingdom of God on earth.
The kingdom of God also has a future aspect about it. When Christ comes, as Paul says in 1Corinthians, and the death, the last enemy, has been conquered, then Christ will hand over the kingdom to the Father. Then the rule of God will be complete and over the entire new heaven and new earth.
For now, let us remember that we are the community where God’s rule/reign is visible. Let us take comfort in what Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32). Let us heed Jesus’ command when he says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Let us be diligent to pray always, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen!