In today’s gospel it may sound at first like Jesus is telling stories to children ..as we find him once again trying to convey to his conflicted, puzzled disciples an answer to the question that sits in the middle of the room like a pink elephant day in and day out, at every gathering, at every campfire, during every meal. They understood the gravity of the situation they were in, and they were beginning to get alarmed at the danger that stirring up the religious power structures were obviously putting them in, especially Jesus. After all, Herod had already beheaded Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. And John had proclaimed Jesus the ‘messiah’ which every Jewish person understood to mean king and Saviour… so of course, as things begin to heat up, the disciples are waiting for Jesus to make his move. And Jesus responds by telling them these parables, each one different, each one an aspect of the kingdom of God, but not one of them includes an army, or a takeover. Kingdoms of earth are accountable to their citizens for justice, in our human existence, but Jesus is telling the disciples, that the kind of long term justice you find in the kingdom of heaven is going to look different. The kingdom of heaven is not located where you expect it to be located. And the agents of its justice will not be who you expect them to be and may not act the way you expect them to act. So the kingdom of God looks like a man stumbling over treasure in a field when he wasn’t even looking for it. Or a woman baking bread making sure the yeast gets worked through all the dough or fishermen going about the days fishing bringing in both good fish and bad fish, or a merchant who is looking for treasure and having looked his whole life finds that one thing he has been looking for. The thing that is so modern about the story of Jesus is that it is set in a time where people wanted and needed a leader to come lead them out of Chaos. But it was horrible oppressive dangerous.. Jesus’ crucifixion was not the first crucifixion it was a common method of Execution. Every time the disciples said when are you going to bring your kingdom Lord, Jesus persistently kept saying in so many different ways : my kingdom is not of this world ..if I wanted to make a legion of Angels to come and lay this place low! But, Jesus knew that in the real Kingdom there was only one way we could access it and that was through faith.
And this Faith, not as some metaphysical pie in the Sky idea, Jesus talked about faith as a concrete, visible commodity to be used. Mark 11:22-24 AndJesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoeversays to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what hesays will come to pass, it will be done for him. … Luke 1:37 For nothingwill be impossible with God. you’re thinking, that’s practical? What’s practical there’s a mountain standing between you and what Gods asked you to do.
The purpose of Jesus’ illustration is to demonstrate the power of the tiniest bit of faith… and to remind us how much we need to ask for it. This is not positive thinking, not that I have anything against positive thinking, it is a precursor to faith, However, Faith itself, scripture says, is the actual substance of things not seen yet. The evidence of things hoped for… in other words Faith comes to us as a sign of God’s working in our life. ‘I believe, God help me in my unbelief” what is it that we’re supposed to believe?
It is one of the formerly confused disciples James who writes many years later. If any of you do lack wisdom let him ask from God who is giving to all liberally and not reproaching and it should be given to him, but let him ask in faith without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and tossed. that person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord’. James knew all about doubt. Don’t we doubt all the time? It sounds harsh. But I think what James knows from experience is that it’s so easy to just go through the motions of prayer as a religious exercise, ticking the boxes so to speak, secretly not really expecting anything to happen and then we can say well ‘ I prayed for this and God didn’t answer my prayer. But what is it that James says you can ask for? James says to ask for wisdom, because Wisdom is the beginning of life.
Common sense is one thing, but Wisdom is something spiritual that comes from living next to God. Proverbs says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and I never liked that one either, because I grew up in fear and I don’t think of fearing God as a healthy thing. This section of Proverbs from the Message puts the idea in context: ‘skilled living gets it start in the fear of God, and the years of your life ripen. Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life. Mock life and life will mock you.” Eugene Peterson, The Message
It’s a good translation. The fear of the Lord is respect for God’s words in a teachable spirit. When I was a tiny little girl, my mum and I lived with my grandparents. My Grandma was one of those people who was born with faith. She was not only one of the kindest sweetest and funniest women I ever met but she was fueled by Faith not just the “go to church” faith but the kind of faith that when you asked her to pray for you? you knew that prayer was going to be answered because my grandma knew the secret to praying. I used to say that Dottie Bradley used the Lord’s Prayer School of praying. She taught me that you can ask for what furthers your agenda if your agenda matches God’s.
But the other reason that my Grandmother’s prayers were answered is because of the way she saw people. They were beautiful to her, it didn’t matter where they came from or how much money they had or if they were Christians or atheists or homeless or rich. She saw things through God’s eyes and she loved them and she made sure that they knew that she loved them and she also made sure that they knew that God loved them. She had found the field with a precious treasure and sold everything she had to buy it. She had planted a tiny little seed of faith in that field from when she was a child and a tree grew, a giant tree where people came and sat on her porch and in Her kitchen where she kneaded love throughout everything she served there. People were Sheltered by the leaves of absolute non judgement and acceptance, and the birds came and nested there because she saw the kingdom of God as the Pearl of great price and she treasured her life, she treasured other people’s lives. Because she also knew that Jesus said that the kingdom of God was In her to reveal. And she loved absolutely everybody. The problem with faith for so many of us is that our cynicism keeps us from attaining it. Because, truthfully? God’s wisdom looks really like foolishness and God’s strength is almost always clothed in weakness. He chooses David who is the youngest and smallest of all his brothers to be king of Israel, he chooses a 100 year old woman to be the mother of the nation of Israel and Jesus comes to town announcing his kingdom led by a pack of poor people throwing plants on the ground while he rides on the back of a donkey.
In the world of the mystics, and my gramma, the spiritual teacher knows that God’s way is the way of surrender and of humility. Someone once told me that humility means strength under control. Jesus says to us unless you become like a little child trusting and open-minded (but not afraid to ask questions and take risks), you will never see the kingdom of God. To take that apart, he’s not talking about a place in the afterlife. That’s the subject for another day, No, the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus says, is within you. But if we are cynical and mocking and self-protective, if we don’t just tear off that modern armor of -’well faith is fine for some but I’m a realist’ talk- then we will not have the eyes to see the kingdom and we will miss it because we are not looking for it in our everyday life. That guy who found the treasure in the field? He was just going about his everyday life. He might have been taking a walk and talking to God about how he really wanted to get a handle on a future for his kids and bam, he kicks the dirt and there is a treasure. I’m going to bet you there were lots of other people who walked around in that field and they didn’t see the treasure.
How many of us have been living our lives and it’s fraught with the things life is fraught with: money troubles, used car things, arguments with your spouse, we didn’t get that promotion or the house, we feel down, and we can’t go on holiday like we planned. We are worried about our kids. (that never ends by the way) we spend our life worrying or comparing our path to someone else’s. And then kids leave home and the money is a bit better or worse and our spouse dies or leaves or stays with you on the couch and watching endless television or you lived your life single with no kids or spouse and now it’s just you….and you think wait. This is it? There we are hoping that all the hard stuff would go away so we can just enjoy our life. Jesus says that the reason our lack of faith puts the kingdom out of our reach is because we are right in the middle of it and we don’t even see it. When you sell everything you own to buy the treasure, your whole life becomes about the treasure. When we see that the kingdom of God is within us and we trade in our over protective ego and our doubt, our ambition and our fear and our worry and we buy the Pearl of great price which is this crazy kingdom, from that moment on everything that happens in our life is sacred, from that moment on, the kingdom of God is everywhere. It’s in the shop, it’s on the bus, it’s in your kids squabbling on the floor, it at work with your boss: the kingdom of heaven is everywhere,
I studied theology for 5 years, I studied hard, I loved it actually… I had amazing professors and without them I wouldn’t be a theologian but I can tell you in the end I felt like I didn’t know much of anything, which is actually pretty wonderful because it gets rid of all your preconceived ideas about all the things you thought you knew. Except this. I still knew that the way to love God was to love my brother and my sister, because my Gramma told us that and because Jesus said so.
He said if you do this to the least of these you’ve done it to me and if you don’t do this to the least of these you’ve not done it to me and I had to trust that God loved me and the kingdom of God was within me and in what he said —because he says ‘in a little while the world will see me no more but you will see me because I live in you …and on that day you will know that I’m in my father and you are in me and I am in you’ it sounds like a bad 60’s pop song!! —-but it’s the truth… whoever has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me and the one who loves me will be loved by my father and I will love him and reveal myself to him and this is my commandment That you love one another.
And if we don’t know how, and we ask for enough faith to love each other, God will give it to us. If we live in this kingdom created by God in our heart, that our life is going to be better and the lives of people around us are going to be better. He already loves us, but if we will love Him, the person, the real person that is Jesus and everyone in front of us, here with us, available to us. That love is going to permeate our life, just like the yeast the woman used to bake her bread. He asks us to dig in the field that is our life, our very own life and let God show us what his love really looks like, A practical life-changing Love is right here, in the right now of God’s kingdom, everywhere our heart looks for it. Seek it like a treasure seeker seek it like a fisherman, or a bread baker. A child. Or my gramma. Sell everything you have to get it.