Like poets, Jesus invites his followers to observe in our world those places where God breaks through so that we might revel in that joy.
Proper 12A | Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
read, listen, or read while you listen!
The work of the poet is discovery. After ruthless editing of course. Discovery.
It begins first with discovery in the world: observation. The poet watches and listens: seeing with eyes and hearing with ears.
The subtle things she’ll notice. The curve of the lips or accompanying wrinkles. She’ll see, then channel them into something more. A story, perhaps it is the subject’s. Often it’s her’s. A story which is nonetheless true and more than true.
She’ll weave that story into a bigger story: one that holds and captivates us.
The poet first discovers the truth of the world. And again, after the editing. She discovers more truth in what she sees in herself. In that finished product. In the sharing.
Jesus’s poetry is these parables. And to paraphrase Stanley Hauerwas, Jesus is, in his being with us, also the poetry as God is the poet. Poetry which sings and disturbs and hides and reveals and in the end, it’s our discovery which brings truth to our lives.
As we’ve seen for several months, Jesus is training his disciples like a teacher. The road is their classroom and walking is the class. He teaches in poetry and explains only rarely. And he gives them independent and collaborative assignments for their “homework.”
And the program is discipleship: to follow and learn at the feet of their master. To be rabbis and scholars themselves. They learn the art of life poetry to be poets and teachers of poetry. Masters of the craft.
So we should never forget that Jesus didn’t recruit from elite private academies or from those who scored highest on any standardized tests. He recruited from the underclass. Like looking for writers among the least literate.
And their muse, the subject of their study is the Kin-dom. And Jesus teaches them about it at the same time he is revealing it to them. He wants them to discover it. For the truth about the Kin-dom is that it isn’t always easy to see. It isn’t always easy to hear or find or know with certainty. The Kin-dom is elusive and strange.
To discover the Kin-dom is true joy.
Eyes and Ears
In these chapters 12 and 13, Jesus shares the challenge of the Kin-dom and of being its seekers. That it may divide us. It may divide our families: this seeking God and Kin-dom. Looking in the hearts of our neighbors, friends, lovers. It’s not easy to see our mothers try to keep us from knowing God. Or our children. Sisters or brothers. Because they have other ideas for God and us.
And these parables about the seeds we’ve had the last few weeks sound weird next to the passage today. A passage chopped up from within last week’s reading. And another piece also cut out from earlier in the chapter, verses 13-17:
The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:13-17)
Sometimes we just cut out the uncomfortable words. And sometimes it is these words we most need to hear. To discover that our work involves these eyes and ears and we pray they’re open.
These last weeks, in which we discussed the parables of the seeds and the weeds, I was struck by the challenge I hear in them. The challenge, both to my understanding of the nature of God as merciful and to the work of the Kin-dom. To let weeds stand among us. To live with them, not knowing whether our neighbors are wheat or darnel. Or whether or not we are wheat. We all hope we are.
But in the middle of that story, Jesus reminds us that this isn’t about the people specifically. It’s about Kin-dom as a whole. And we are its poets.
The Kin-dom is like the smallest of seeds — it’s power is to grow far beyond its own capacity. It’s supposed to be a shrub, a bush, maybe even a boxwood, but it grows far beyond that. The miracle of the seed, which duplicates its mass already is now breaking the boundaries from bush to tree.
No matter how much we want to shove it into a box and label it, it has its own identity. A new creation. Like yeast, from a tiny bit it becomes a loaf.
Treasure, pearls, hidden and discovered. Coveted and sacrificed for. What we might call being so devoted to something, we’ll do ridiculous things. Like lovers, humiliating themselves as an expression of love and devotion. Throwing everything away to be with them. And love them.
It’s funny, to read these absurd devotions paired with Solomon in our first reading. This may be the part Solomon is most known for. His father, the great King David has died and Solomon is assuming the throne as head of a united Judah and Israel. God wants to give him a gift. And Solomon asks for wisdom so that he can best serve his people. And God thinks that’s a fine idea.
Wisdom isn’t just intelligence in the ancient world. It’s also the collecting of stories and histories and wisdom literature of the world’s many traditions.
And if we keep reading 1 Kings, we’ll see Solomon builds a mighty kingdom, enslaves his own people, takes hundreds of wives and slaves for himself, a thousand in all. And he worships other gods and sells weapons to other countries. In other words, the one who sought wisdom to best lead his people is the one who ruined their relationship with God.
He wasn’t seeing God in this wisdom, he saw himself.
God opened Solomon’s eyes to discover God throughout the world and all he brought back to his people was violence.
The faithful discovered God in it, much later. When they discovered God was one. When they discovered God would liberate them again and bring them home.
Later when God would walk among them as a teacher. A poet.
We love to talk about the power of God and our own discipleship as sets of rules and principles (remember, my brothers and sisters, we are all disciples, too). We make our eyes to see and ears to hear into the instruments of ignorance. That we might pretend we didn’t hear the call
–give it all away
–take up your cross
–love your neighbor as yourself
to love with the same passion of our greed so it would lead us to see in it our very devotion to God.
And yet what would it take to see the Kin-dom in this world — this devotion to God and neighbor to flip upside down the economy of exclusion — as such an alluring treasure. It calls to us at night, in our dreams, it haunts; in our waking, it taunts. It pulls us
leave work, home
find it in this barren field. We feel like we’re getting away with something (we are!); to discover it, so scandalized (we are!).
To love God so completely and with such trust the temptations of this world are nothing; the wisdom is revealed as folly.
What would it take to chase love and devotion like the scribe chases truth and the pharisee chases certainty? Would you chase your longing into the arms of your neighbors? To heal their hurts and your own? Or share your pain so that you might be healed in your surprising healing of a stranger?
Would you dare observe all places the Kin-dom pokes through our world, noticing the thin spaces in friendly smiles and light cascading tables or the breeze cutting back the heat? Would you put pen to life’s paper and write a poem of love? Write a poem of peace, justice?
It’s in you.