In the Name....
A young salesman was disappointed after losing an important sale. In discussing it with his manager, the young man shrugged. "I guess it just proves you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink." "Son," said the manager, "Your job is not to make him drink. It's to make him thirsty."
In 1990, when the Hubble space telescope was launched into orbit, it was discovered it contained a flaw which caused its pictures to be out of focus. The flaw was an error in the curvature of the parabolic mirror. It was off by 2 micrometres - less than a human hair. That may not seem like much, but, without the exact parabola the telescope could not accurately focus light and explore the mysteries of the universe. To solve the problem, what amounted to very expensive eyeglasses had to be flown up and attached to make it work properly.
Now, the word “parable” is related to the word “parabola,” and both have the root meaning of “reflection". The parable and the parabola both reflect light and reveal truth. Both make it possible for us to see things which would otherwise escape our attention. As spiritual Hubble telescopes, Jesus’ parables bring the sometimes distant Gospel into focus and reveal mysteries of faith which we are then invited to explore. And, like the images from the Hubble, parables often raise more questions than they answer, but, in helping us raise the right questions, they focus us on what it is we really need to know.
At first glance, Jesus' parables seem to be ordinary, everyday stories. They're about everything from seeds and shrubs to lost coins and unfair employers. Nothing very unusual, even for people today, to hear. Yet the parable always draws us on to new and deeper understandings, just as the ones we heard this morning.
Today, we were told, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. We were also told the kingdom of God is like a handful of yeast, a treasure in a field, a pearl in the market, and a net full of fish.
Now, what did those tell you about the kingdom of God? Seriously. Well, on the face of it, they don't tell me very much at all. Our modern world of high-tech and megabytes often finds parables frustrating. We want to know what something “is”, not what it's “like.” Give me facts, not comparisons. But, the thing is that the kingdom of God never “is.” It is always “like” because it's not something that can be observed and measured like a star or planet. It is something which is only discovered within a relationship, our relationship with God. And this morning's parables focus on that relationship in ways we may find surprising.
For example, it is sometimes portrayed, and we may have heard this, that the parable of the mustard seed is about us, and its meaning is that we humans have the potential to achieve a fabulous future no matter how humble our origins. That has a certain cultural appeal to us in America, the land of opportunity. But, Jesus said this parable is about the kingdom of God, not Man. So, you see, the mustard seed isn't us; it's the word of God which is planted within us.
We're not the seed in this parable, we're the soil, the soil which nurtures the Word and allows it to flourish. And just as the nutrients and water in the soil, indeed the very soil itself, become part of the plant, so we become part of what the Word becomes in us. The relationship between the seed and the soil is the meaning of the phrase "losing ourselves to find ourselves." Yes, we indeed have the potential to achieve a fabulous future from a humble beginning, but, only as part of the life of something else. It's not about changing our careers; it's about changing our being. It's about finding our life in God's life.
Now, in the two parables about the treasure and pearl, we read that the men sold everything they had to acquire these. And, what strikes me right away is that each of these men found what they found in very different ways. One was actively looking for something and the other comes upon it by accident.
We might call the active one a seeker, someone searching for more than this life offers. This parable reminds us that searching for Jesus and the kingdom of heaven means we face choices and have to make decisions, sometimes hard decisions. There will always be passing treasures that in the short-term are tempting but don’t offer us the happiness we really want, and we have to let those go. In the first reading, Solomon passed up on asking for long life, riches and military victories, which any king would naturally want, and asked, instead, for wisdom in order to discern between good and evil.
No wonder the text continues, "It pleased the Lord." It pleased the Lord. And Solomon got his wisdom - and his health, wealth, and victories, none of which he had requested, but, which God knew he would need, because he had made a choice. He had been willing to sell everything, as it were, to obtain the pearl of great price.
And, the other parable tells us that the kingdom is something that is hidden in plain sight. Actually, it is a bit troubling to think that God would hide something so important. I mean, I’m all for celebrating when it’s found, but why is it hidden in the first place? Why isn’t it visible to everybody?
I suspect that it is. We just have trouble seeing it or understanding it when we do.
In the Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes says to Watson, “you see, but you do not perceive.” And that’s the situation of the fellow who is described as finding the treasure. He’s not looking for it. He’s not out there with a spiritual metal detector. He just stumbles across it. But, what sets him apart is that he realizes its value. Sort of like the fellow who discovers a Rembrandt at a yard sale.
And, where does he find this great hidden treasure? As Jesus says in another place, “The kingdom of God is within you.” “The kingdom of God is within you.” That’s where the unsuspecting fellow finds it. Yes, we are the kingdom and we are how the kingdom becomes known.
God isn’t hiding the kingdom from us. We are hiding it from each other and our job as Christians is to reveal it. We reveal the kingdom when we love, when we care, when we give. When we ask for help and when we accept it. When we show off Christ’s writing on our hearts in words of love and generosity.
The parables in this morning's Gospel are calls to recognize that God has both a general Will for the way we should live and a specific Will for the things we should do as individuals. Make our lives part of his life; make the hard decisions; and make the kingdom within us more obvious in all we say and do.
After all, it’s not our job to make people drink, it’s our job to make them thirsty. Thirsty for Jesus. Thirsty for the kingdom.
In the Name…