Pentecost 7, 27 July 2014
Matthew 13 INI
The story is told about a group of German army officers who were on horseback riding through a scenic stretch of country. One of the officers pointed out a lovely stream running through the bottom of a meadow and admired how beautiful it was. The senior officer fixed his eye on it, and said, An insignificant obstacle. He had trained himself to look at the whole world, all the time, as a military commander. Distracting touristy thoughts had no place in a mind where the important thing about a stream was whether it could hold up your attack.
Most of us are trained this way to some extent. Good entrepreneurs are always looking at the world through the lens of business opportunities. Fearful people are exquisitely sensitive to the dangers posed in some situation. Police officers train not only their minds but their guts to spot something that just ain’t right. I have trained my mind to look for puns, as my longsuffering wife will attest. How have you trained your mind?
Jesus clearly trained his mind always to connect everything to the impact his heavenly Father was having, and would have, on the earth. And these connections helped him think through and explain what God was doing in him. Maybe they even helped him answer objections. Jesus, all you do is hang around little villages. Sure, he answers – it’s like a seed, small at the beginning but it gets huge. Fine, but Jesus – no offense, but you don’t have any of the qualifications to be a great emperor. True, he answers – but God’s kingdom it not going to be some huge, impressive oak or cedar tree. It’s going to be common, like me: a great huge mustard bush that feeds the birds of the air.
Wait – the birds of the air? What do you mean, the birds of the air? You
know what I mean: the Gentiles. The kingdom is not just for Jews, it is for Gentiles and all the nations of the earth.
Jesus is a poet. His images are not glass jars meant to deliver intellectual content, doctrine or teachings. His images are glass lenses meant to retrain our minds to see the world in a whole new light. To see what happens when the Father of Jesus is making his impact felt. So he is watching a mother baking bread for her family, and he gets to thinking, Hey – we are like that yeast. There are not many of us yet, but we can have an effect all out of proportion to our numbers. We just must not separate ourselves from the world like monks – we have to get mixed in with everyone else. And we have to think of our lives mainly in terms of the effect we are having on the world.
So another day he is watching the guys out fishing with a dragnet. If he had been a fisherman himself he would have been watching their technique to see if they were any good at their craft. If he had had a dried fish export business he would have been wondering how much money to offer for their catch. But being Jesus, he is thinking, That is just like the kingdom. God does not wait for people to get interested, he goes after them where they are. He does not pick out just the holy ones or the sane ones or the rich ones, he’s out there like Forrest Gump catching shrimp: he’s pulling in old army helmets and toilet seats and gar and carp and everything else. The sorting can come later.
Then he hears a story about some guy who finds a treasure buried in a field. This was not quite as rare as you may think. Back then when the country was invaded or there was civil unrest, the smart thing to do was to bury your money and jewelry in the back yard. Of course there was always the possibility that you would die, move, or forget where you
buried it. That happened often enough that we are still digging up pots of coins. Well, Jesus hears about how this clever guy made sure that he actually owned the field before he “discovered” the treasure. And he wishes that people would get as excited about what God is doing as that guy was about his little pot of dollars. He wishes people would plan and think and take risks as willingly to be a part of what God is doing as they do to get money. He is thinking, The real treasure is right here with me. When will you notice?
The same is true with the pearl. This guy obviously has devoted his life to knowing what a truly valuable pearl looks like. The shape, the size, the colour, he has trained himself to spot the pearl that commands a premium price. And again, he is prepared to take decisive action, to give up every one of his lesser pearls because this beauty here is what the pearl business is all about.
This is how Jesus’ mind rolls, all day, every day. There is not a moment when he is not constantly returning to what God is up to now. The important thing for us again is not just the content of the teaching, but the whole modeling of the mental training. We live in a world that works very hard to train our minds in other ways, and it is pretty effective at it. We are trained to see things in terms of the satisfaction of our cravings. We are trained to see things in terms of what makes us stronger. The crucial thing is that, in time, we will find that we can see only what we have trained ourselves to see.
A man who has been trained to see that people should only get what they deserve will not be capable of seeing mercy as anything but a threat or a
scandal. This does not mean that mercy does not exist. It means that he cannot see it for what it is. In the same way, some folks have trained themselves to see only the physical world in terms of cause and effect. That is a useful way of seeing the world, but it does not allow you to see everything. He may find in time that he can no longer see God – not because God does not exist, but because he has trained himself to see the world in a way that makes God more invisible than he is.
How many times a day do you think about God? What are the triggers that unlock such thoughts? I don’t ask this in any accusatory way. I ask it because Jesus goes about his life in a state of peace, power and joy even when he was tired, hunger or in tears. I want all of us to enjoy this same sense of well-being. And I think it’s right there for us when we hear about a friend winning the lottery, or we watch someone making bread, or when we see people out fishing. It’s all a matter of how our minds are tuned into God’s presence in the world through our Lord Jesus Christ. Any body of water will remind us of baptism. Any bread will remind us of communion. Any fault in ourselves and others will remind us of grace and forgiveness.