There’s a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I would say that a life is worth a thousand parables.
We talk about parables a lot… just about every time we encounter Jesus with his disciples, at least in the latter half of his ministry, we hear parables. In fact, there are at least 35 parables in the four Gospels.
This morning we hear at least six parables:
- The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone sowed in a field.
- The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman mixed with three measures of flour.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field which someone found.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of a fine pearl.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea that caught fish of every kind.
- Every scribe of the kingdom of heaven is like the master who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
Jesus uses parables to talk about the Kingdom of God. It’s one of those terms that we use so often that we may have stopped thinking about what it really means.
Para means “to lay alongside.” A parabola, for example, refers to two curved lines that mirror each other perfectly. So, a parable is a story that is laid aside a profound truth to demonstrate and illustrate that exact truth in a way that people can understand. Simply put, a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.
However, it’s not that simple. First, because of the nature of the stories, we don’t always all agree on what exactly a certain parable means. Charles Hedrick, wrote in a book called Many Things in Parables, that “Responses depend as much on what that interpreter brings to the parable as on what the parable itself says.”
At the same time, Jesus, even as he shared profound truth about how God works, also used parables to hide the truth from some. Earlier in chapter 13 than this morning’s section, at verse 10, the disciples came and asked Jesus “Why do you speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.”
At first glance, it would seem like a distinction based on worthiness. Some deserve to know the truth and some don’t. However, I think that may be a worldly distinction—and probably not what Jesus meant.
In Matthew, Jesus starts using parables right after an extended encounter with the Pharisees who tried to trap him by challenging Jesus and his disciples on the Sabbath. The pharisees tell him that his followers are breaking the Sabbath rules by picking food up in the fields. They challenge him about whether it is permissible to heal people on the day of rest. As these powerful leaders showed that they were trying to undermine his ministry, Jesus began speaking in parables.
Taking all this into account, perhaps being able to understand parables or not is more about the reality that some are ready to encounter the kingdom of God and some are not yet ready. When we become engaged, when we start to search actively for meaning, then we are ready to see beyond the world-bound example to understand the grace that lies beyond it.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are engaged in encountering the kingdom of God in our daily lives. We are earthly beings tasked with pointing, when we choose to, to greater truths about the Kingdom of Heaven. In short, in our lives, we can speak a 1,000 parables about the breadth, depth, and strength of God’s love for us.
What parable do you want to tell with your life? Before you decide, let’s look at how parables work. First, we have to know something about how God works, how the kingdom of God works, and then we need to align ourselves, put ourselves in parallel with that. Further, Jesus points to small and insignificant, even inconsequential, things of daily life to point to the greatness of God: a mustard seed, yeast, a merchant, or a net. Other times, it may be something that people place value on, like the treasure in the field or the master of the house. These things are worldly things that do not have value or power outside of what we have given it.
Second, parables are always based on action… the mustard seed is planted, the yeast is mixed with flour, the merchant searches for the treasure, the treasure is found, the net is thrown into the sea, and the master takes out his valuables.
Finally, something happens out of that combination of a small action taken in relationship to the item:
- The small seed grows to shelter and provide protection to all the birds of the air.
- The small bit of yeast leavened enough flour to make enough bread to feed 100 or 150 people.
- The treasure hidden and found and the pearl discovered both bring joy and meaning that it is worth more to someone than everything he owns.
- The net captures all the fish and all are brought into the boat to be sorted.
- And finally, the master of the household sorts through all that the house contains both old and new.
In our daily lives, we are the parables of what we believe, whether we know it or not. We speak the parables with the things that we do. Sometimes, people recognize the greater truth that we are speaking and sometimes they do not.
What parable do you want to tell with your life? Here are some of the parables that this community puts out into the world:
- The kingdom of heaven is like a church that throws open its doors and gives shelter to those who do not have a home, and the people are fed and sheltered and know that they are worthy, worthwhile and beloved.
- The kingdom of heaven is like doors painted in all the colors of the rainbow that reminded the world that no one will be turned away from the love of God.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a grieving widow who, after her husband dies, is surrounded by people who remind her that she is beloved and cared for and will not be left alone.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a friend who smiles in greeting and remembers to ask about the thing that matters most to you.
- The kingdom of heaven is like a joyful song that lifts the singer heart and soul, and touches those who hear it with a gentle smile.
- The kingdom of heaven is like the person who, when someone is ill and alone, goes and visits as a reminder that no community is the same when someone who belongs there is missing.
What parable do you want to tell with your life? The kingdom of heaven is like an invitation to do the thing that you most want to do in a way that will touch the world and make it new.
Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Church of the Epiphany in San Carlos, CA, on Sunday, July 30th, 2017.