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PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM Rom 8:26-end; Matt 13:31-33, 44-52

And behold he put before them another parable: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a war criminal who had been hiding for many years in his own country. He had not been dwelling in a strong house with many guards nor had he moved from place to place avoiding arrest. He had disguised his face and appeared as a different person. He had lived hidden amongst them for many years and no one knew it.’
The Lord put before them another parable: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is like a woman who took her prize possession to the Antiques Roadshow. When the expert examined the antique he declared it to be of such great value that the woman expressed her surprise and amazement and went home with great joy.’
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a cosmic net that was thrown into this world. In the net were caught many things: a bowl carrying the reflection of a starving face; a mortgage statement showing a huge debt owing; a knife covered in blood that belonged to a teenager. Also in this net was the story of a mother’s sacrifice; a photograph of an aid worker with a group of Burmese people; a DVD of a great man’s 90th birthday party. The net was brought in only at the end of time when the angels sorted out the good from the bad.’

We want the world to be sorted out
I hope you don’t mind my taking liberties with the Bible, but I have tried to demonstrate how Jesus’ parables might have struck the original audience. They created an impression and have been told and retold down the ages because they make you think hard. The kingdom of heaven must be the time or place when everything is right – that very thing for which we all long. If the world’s problems seem overwhelming, it might be that our personal problems loom even larger for us. We are aware of the increased cost of living; we may have major health problems that fill our horizon; we may have a heavy heart because of family or relationship difficulties; perhaps we face a discouraging situation at work and each day is a massive challenge.

How St Paul viewed the situation
So how can St Paul declare in our Romans reading, “we are more than conquerors” vs 37, or “all things work together for good,” vs 28 or even, “nothing can separate us from the love of God!” vs 39? We have to look at the context both of this passage and of Paul’s own life. He wasn’t blind to the situation or being falsely optimistic. He along with the rest of the first Christians suffered a great deal of opposition because of their faith in Jesus Christ. But he saw his sufferings and those of the other believers in a wider context. Earlier in the same chapter of Romans 8 Paul describes creation waiting with eager longing; he says that we are saved in hope; he says we wait with patience for what is not seen to come about. Then he continues where our passage picks up: “likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness...” Then he went on to explain that God has a purpose (vv 28-30); that purpose is fulfilled in God giving up his only Son (vv 31-34); and that God’s love is not stopped by anything (vv 38-39) – and he means anything – anything in the whole cosmos.

Paul might have been able to place his own and his community’s present sufferings in a wider context, but was he simply whistling in the dark? Was he simply a great optimist who saw that one day things might improve and the world would put itself right, rather like those baby toys which always bounce back upright no matter how many times they are knocked over? To answer that we have to look more closely at today’s readings. Paul’s convictions were not merely optimism in the face of a bleak situation. Paul’s convictions were based on what he had come to accept about Jesus Christ. But first we need to backtrack a little.

Deepest Longings
Imagine: You are sitting at home, curled up in a warm blanket in front of the TV, watching a kid's movie that features a rakish hero and an old magic lamp. You think of all the pressures in your life — work, bills, relationships, health —- and you think to yourself about how wonderful it would be if life were like the movies. With a poof of animated smoke, a big blue Genie appears in front of you, wisecracking jokes in a voice that sounds an awful lot like Robin Williams. The Genie puts a piece of paper and a magic pen in front of you, and says that he is ready to make all of your wishes come true — whatever you want, the whole bang shoot — as long as you can write it down in two minutes or less.

You’ll find this on a life coaching website. It goes on to say that, simple as it sounds, few people know what they most want in life, and even fewer consistently focus on getting it. For most of us, most of the time, we focus on the means to getting what we want, rather than our core needs themselves. We obsess on "success" at our job, making "enough" money, or having the "perfect" relationship — or else we don't focus at all, and simply react to what life throws at us.

That is not too far removed from this: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit.”
What do we most long for? Somehow we are more aware of the longing itself than of what it is that we really want. Perhaps at the deepest level we want to know that we are loved by God, that he is ultimately in control and that our lives have meaning and purpose. Or, in the words of the coaching organisation: we search for fulfilment, success and survival.

Fulfilled in Christ
So what had Paul come to accept about Jesus Christ, and how does that connect with his view of reality? Paul had come to see how Christ was the central point around which everything else revolved. He believed that God was for us because he had given up his only Son for all of us. His Son had died, had risen and had not just returned to the Father’s side, but was there actively working on our behalf – “interceding for us” was the way Paul put it – a cosmic case of not what you know, but who you know. Christ is putting in a good word for us at the highest level. Not only that, but ultimately, the only one in whose hands is our destiny, is on our side. We can only describe mysteries in picture language. The picture just drawn is that of a court of law with a judge (God the Father), a defendant (the human race) and the lawyer (God the Son). Paul also uses another image: that of a large family. If Jesus is our elder brother, and the only begotten (in this case it might mean ‘natural’) son in the household, then by grace and faith, we are all adopted children. But in this family, no matter how badly behaved the adopted children might have been, nothing will persuade the Father to kick out his adoptees. From time to time, the world may seem so bad, or we may think we are so bad, that it feels like the good Father has abandoned us. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Father has sacrificed too much in giving up his Son to let it all go to waste.

Back to the Parables
That brings us right back to the parables of the Kingdom. Things are not what they seem at first. What we know from the natural world, or of valuable possessions we need also to apply to the world’s ultimate destination. The natural world presents us with a tiny seed that looks dead. How incredible yet true that it grows into a huge tree! Sometimes a person may discover something wonderfully valuable that they didn’t even realise was there: you buy a field because you know that in one corner lies buried treasure; you come across a pearl so wonderfully perfect that you sell all your other pearls to possess it. We long for the world to be sorted out, for our lives to be sorted out. Things are so bad, and may go on being bad even after our lifetime, that we cannot see everything being put right. The challenge of the fishing net parable is this: what kind of God do you really believe in? A genie God who may magic things right, or a God who has started to work at putting things right by giving up his own Son for us?

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



Generous God,
you give us gifts and make them grow:
though our faith is small as mustard seed,
make it grow to your glory
and the flourishing of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.