Sunday 30 July
Year A: 8th Sunday after Trinity (Proper 12)
Liturgical colour: Green
- Genesis 29:15-28
- Psalm 105:1-11
- Romans 8:26-39
- Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
We pray ‘thy Kingdom come’ at almost every service we attend and in our own personal prayers, but what do we mean by it?
Jesus talks a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God, and both phrases are believed to refer to the same thing. Matthew’s gospel uses Kingdom of Heaven because it is aimed at Jewish readers, who would have opposed the name of God being written down. (Although, the phrase is also part of a regular pattern of contrasting earth and heaven in the gospel.) Mark and Luke use the phrase Kingdom of God, which would have been easier for non-Jews to understand. Neither phrase appears in the Old testament and only very infrequently in the New Testament outside of these three gospels. This is strange as the idea is absolutely central to Jesus’ teaching, even though he never defines the Kingdom exactly. Rather, as in our gospel readings today and for the past few weeks, he talks about what it is like, and not like.
Jesus says that the Kingdom is not like the world we currently experience (John 18.26), and when he talks about entering the Kingdom (Matt 19.23) it is different to the traditional Jewish hoped-for physical conquest that the Messiah would bring about. Rather, the Kingdom seems to be more of a spiritual and ethical realm, a kind of being and doing, than an actual place. Indeed, Jesus teaching in the Lord’s Prayer directly links the Kingdom with God’s will being done.
Jesus tells us that God sees things from a very different perspective and that perspective, and God’s will, is revealed in and through him. We sometimes forget that Jesus’ being and doing is really rather revolutionary. He is constantly tipping worldly wisdom on its head. Not least, in how he places the poor and weak above the rich and strong in the Kingdom, rather than seeing worldly success as a sign of God’s blessing as it was at the time.
When pondering this weeks’ gospel reading I was struck that four out of the five parables offered refer to things that would be easy to overlook; a mustard seed, yeast, treasure that is hidden and a single pearl. Yet in each of the short lessons, someone noticed and did something with them; the sower, the baker, the detectorist and the merchant. If the Kingdom of Heaven is like that, then perhaps we should take note. It seems it is no good just knowing the theory. The actors in the parables were both attentive and expectant enough to recognise and act when they spotted signs of the Kingdom, however small and seemingly insignificant.
There is debate around the ‘now and not yet’ nature of the Kingdom; i.e. whether the Kingdom will happen in the future, was begun by Jesus but will be fully realized in the future, or is already established through Jesus. I am not sure we need to know the answer to that to know what to do. Although it is necessary, to remind ourselves that we are not instructed to establish the Kingdom, but are invited to seek and enter into it.
That has two implications for us as ministers. First, we must work on our own learning from Jesus and deepen our understanding of what it means to live out Kingdom values in our own being and doing. I find it helpful to be reminded that being a learner or disciple of Jesus, is not a science. It isn’t something objective that can be poked under a microscope and fully understood once and for all. It is a relationship, that deepens and grows over time, if we stay close to the teacher. Second, we must be alert to and know how to spot the signs of the Kingdom when we come across them, and take action, however small, to ensure they reach their full potential.