Matteus 13:31-33 – 2017

6 Augustus 2017 Koninkrykstyd Pinelands
Prediker: Dr Tiana Bosman

 

13:31 He gave them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 13:32 It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.”

13:33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.” (NET)

The twin parables of the mustard seed and the yeast. We all know these parables and their meaning is obvious. Jesus did not go through the trouble to explain them as He explain many of the others in detail since it probably wasn’t necessary. (Or perhaps people did not want to ask because they were too offended by it?) For us these two parables have become proverbial – ons gee daaraan spreekwoordelike status. Vir al wat ons weet vind ons Afrikaanse spreekwoord “klein begin is groot gewin” sy oorsprong vanuit hierdie gelykenisse.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.” A very small seed, the smallest seed known in that time, becoming the greatest garden plant – such is the kingdom of heaven. It might look like nothing when we look around us, it may even be invisible, but just you wait and see – it will become the greatest of all kingdoms. Its growth cannot be contained.

Just as “yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.” Three measures of flour – equal to about 40 liters. Enough flour to bake bread for more than 100 people. A tiny bit of yeast is all that is needed. After working it into the flour and left to rise overnight, it can produce bread in abundance. Such is the kingdom of heaven. It is small and hidden, but it works in a mysterious way, it spreads until the whole world is changed by it. Do not underestimate the kingdom.

Soos met die meeste ander gelykenisse as mens dit goed gaan lees, is daar egter ook in hierdie twee ‘n kinkel in die kabel. Lê daar meer agter die boodskap as bloot dat die koninkyk klein begin, maar nietemin buitengewone proporsies sal aanneem. To grasp the underlying meaning of these parables, we need to consider the biblical time and context.

Mustard seed and yeast were both bad things in the time of Jesus. It brought forth negative connotations. Mustard seed was an unwanted weed, a dangerous intruder in gardens and plantations that could wreak havoc. It starts out as a small seed, seemingly harmless, but once it begins to grow (almost immediately after hitting the ground) there is no stopping it. It is impossible to get rid of. It becomes a bushy plant that infests the plantation. In fact, the Jewish Holy Book has laws on “a Variety of Kinds”. In both Deuteronomy and Leviticus we read that you may not sow two types of seed on your land. In the Rabbynical discussion on “a Variety of Kinds”, Mishna Kilavim specifies clearly: “Not every kind of seed may be sown in a garden, but you may sow any kind of vegetable. Mustard seed and small beans is a type of seed [that may not be sown], whilst big beans is a type of vegetable [that may be sown].

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field,” teached Jesus. But you were not allowed to do that! It was against the law, not even to speak of the hard (and impossible) labour to get rid of this plant or stop the damage that it has done to the plantation. How can Jesus make such a comparison?

And yeast? Yeast infected everything it touched and it was best to avoid it. In the Bible yeast is often used to indicate the dangerous nature of sin. It is usually associated with evildoers and corruption. It is not without reason that the holy Jewish festival of Passover is also known as the Feast of the Unleavened Bread. The people who ate leavened bread during the feast became impure and where cut off from the religious community. They could not partake in the feast.

After hearing these parables people might have wondered whether they still wanted anything to do with the coming of the kingdom. Who would look forward to something that infests like mustard seed and contaminates like yeast? Why does Jesus compare the kingdom of God to these bad things?

Because Jesus is being extremely provocative, talking not only to his disciples and followers, but also to the religious and political leaders in the crowd, the scribes (interpreters of Scripture) and the Pharisees; not only to his friends, but also to his enemies. So many people that He had to sit in a boat while the people crowded on the beach to listen to what He had to say. Imagine how upset these leaders who wanted to get rid of Jesus would have been when they heard his revolutionary message of a kingdom that is not small and insignificant, but a threat to the status quo! In Jesus the kingdom has come. That is why He comforts the people in the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (5:3-5). (See how the kingdom of heaven and the earth are both in the present time, the here and now?) He also upsets a whole lot of others who do not want this kind of kingdom where there is vulnerability and humanity, compassion and peacemakers, inclusivity and human dignity.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches.” Mustard seeds grow into uncontainable plants, but they do not become trees. However, when compared to these seeds, the kingdom of heaven becomes even greater, it will become a tree that will provide a home for all the wild birds in the heavens, all the birds that are not domesticated, that do not have homes or other places of safety… The kingdom of heaven will expand so much that people with nowhere to go, the so-called wild birds in the world, the sick and the sinners, the homeless and jobless, the leprous and HIV’s, etc…, those who are deemed inferior and unworthy – they will find a place of refuse in its branches – against the wishes of the general establishment.

The kingdom of heaven is for EVERYONE who has nowhere else to go. Not only in terms of a place of safety, but also of nourishment. Therefor the parable of the yeast. Yeast may be a bad substance, but when the kingdom is compared to it, it becomes a lifesaving ingredient that is kneaded into 40 liters of flour (impossible for a person to do this), and makes more than one-hundred breads – 100 being one of the numbers of perfection in the Bible. In the kingdom of heaven there will be enough for EVERYONE.

Perhaps we should conclude with imagining Jesus addressing the leaders of society who don’t like Him at all. He looks around and also sees and recognizes the lowly people in the crowd. His main aim is to affirm all people’s dignity in the eyes of God, in the vision of the kingdom that came through Him, and He needs to do it in a country and a world divided at large – on levels of age (children must be seen and not heard), gender (women are inferior to men and can’t survive on their own), health (the terminally ill are cast out of society and left to die on the outskirts), economy (the haves and the have nots set the requirement for the who’s and the nobodies), status (determined by things you can do nothing about (race, background, culture and religion into which you where born, sexual identity…). Recognizing and acknowledging this diversity, Jesus begins to speak to the powerful: You who see other people as mustard seeds – unwanted, weed, inferior. I tell you these people will indeed act like mustard – In my kingdom they will grow and expand – not only becoming bushes but huge trees. They will provide a home for all the birds in the heaven. They will become the (uwanted) yeast who will feed hundreds of people and care for the poor and the needy. They will be the visible sign of the kingdom of heaven here on earth. Their effect will be felt everywhere. Blessed are these poor in spirit people, these who do not know the Torah or understand theology, these who know that they know nothing of God, these people without religious potential, for the kingdom of heaven that has the characteristics of mustard seed, belongs to them.

And then He turns his gaze to those spiritually bankrupt people, and He reminds them: YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world. Don’t hide. Let your light shine.

This Jesus invites us all, everyone, to sit around his table this morning and receive the nourishment of bread and wine as the sacramental signs of his life that he offered for the sake of this kingdom where all can be welcome.

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