So, here’s my guess…

A sermon text, based on Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52, video-recorded and shared with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost, July 26, 2020.


“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks. They answer, “Yes!”

Sometimes I wonder about Jesus’ disciples. So quick to reply to a question of cosmic significance. Like the meaning of life. Or the nature of God. Or the character of the kingdom of heaven. All said, the meaning, nature, and character of life with God.

But the disciples were disciples. Students. They had come to Jesus to learn from him. And sometimes they seem to me like the children of any classroom. Faced with a question and with the approval of the teacher hanging in the balance, they either remain silent hoping one of them will speak up (in the case of the disciples, usually the impetuous Peter), bearing for all of them the weight of judgment or, in boisterous solidarity, they blurt out an answer hoping their unanimity will count for something.

“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks. All these parables piled one upon another?

I digress…

The word parable, in the Greek, parabolé, is derived from para, alongside, and ballo, to throw. Therefore, a parable is a story tossed next to us. A metaphor that is lobbed and lands parallel to our lives, so that we, not having been hit in the head directly and knocked senseless, might turn aside to see more clearly something that is hard to conceptualize and harder to communicate. In this case, the kingdom of heaven (which, by the way, is the point of all of Jesus’ parables; the meaning, nature, and character of life with God).

Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?” They answer, “Yes!” Then, the point of the question. “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”


I digress again…

This a loaded scripture passage. Overloaded with descriptions of the kingdom of heaven that run, like skittering rabbits, in all directions. Thus, far be it from me to declare plainly what Jesus intends for us to understand.

In truth, I don’t know the truth, the whole, and nothing but the truth. About anything! All I have are my guesses, my perceptions and presumptions about things, which, like parables, I can toss alongside Jesus’ word to help me to see and to understand, however partially.

So, my guess is that Jesus is the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven. Jesus is the master of the household who, in his teaching, brings what is new and old; new interpretations of old, well known images and ideas.

So, here’s my guess of an old idea with a new, a now twist…

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, has proven that something tiny, viral, invisible to our eyes can grow dramatically, exponentially into a destructive global power that consumes our attention and resources, that consumes us.

So, here’s my guess that in Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven, we can see a counter-image, a counter-reality. Jesus speaks not of a destructive force, but rather the most life-giving power. One that arises almost invisibly and grows exponentially…

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that becomes the greatest of shrubs, trees; its branches, like extending arms of hospitality, offering places where birds can make nests as homes for their young…

The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that makes dough rise into leavened bread; pleasing to the smell, delicious to the taste.

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven does not consume us, but rather, welcoming, is our home and, nourishing, is our food.

And the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure in a field or a pearl of great value, which, when found, we joyfully sell all we have to obtain. Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is worthy, most worthy of all of our attention and resources.

So, here’s my guess about some new, some now interpretations I perceive in old, well known images and ideas…

The kingdom of heaven is like the seed and the yeast of our offerings, however small, however tentative, of the hospitality of open minds, open hearts, and open hands, especially, in these times of political and racial turmoil, to the stranger or “the other” – all those who think and feel, believe and behave differently. All so that we might be living, incarnate reminders of the commonality of our humanity…

That all of us are made in the image of the one God whose kingdom is heaven…

That we, rather than continuing to throw the stones of strife, offer the bread of our common humanity as sustenance to feed souls, starved by incessant conflict, who hunger for connection…

That we have less of a great point of debate to make and more of the grace of a listening ear to give.

The kingdom of heaven is like the treasure, the pearl of great value, which I perceive as, believe is love!

Love, oft hidden and unfound in the field of this world of woe…

Love that Jesus, in his life and ministry, death and resurrection, has given all that he is and all that he has to give it to us, so that we, giving all that we are and all that we have to possess it, can give it away.

Have we understood all this?

© 2020 PRA

Illustration: Jesus teaching the disciples, James Tissot (1836-1902)

4 thoughts on “So, here’s my guess…

  1. Paul,

    Thank you for the new and now interpretations! Feeding souls, listening and love! How much better would the world be if we understood all this?? COVID really has changed how we live for the rest of our lives I believe. I pray every day to better see and understand the lessons we are supposed to be learning from this pandemic. Thanks for making us think and seek to understand.

    Much love


    1. Thanks, Loretta. The coronavirus pandemic (no surprise, in the light and shadow of its manifest global destructive effects) has altered how we all think of life, the world, and ourselves. In this, it – as the proverbial word has it – never ceases to amaze me how our ancient sacred texts ever retain that capacity to serve as a clarifying lens through which to look at life, the world, and ourselves.

      And, yes, I pray that we understand all this – that we, who follow Jesus, the one who said that, in him, “the kingdom is at hand,” are to be bearers of the life of God’s kingdom (which doesn’t…which never makes us better than anyone else, only rather, I think, I believe, that it means that we, indeed, have understood all this!)!



  2. I’m always eager to listen to your sermons, as you are so gifted in making scripture so incredibly relevant to what is happening NOW. Thank you for sharing this amazing gift. So grateful for your insight and perspective.


  3. My dear sister Jane, you are kind to me. Thank you.

    As Hebrews 4.12 says, “The word of God is living and active…”, thus, far, far from a dusty, dead tome. This I believe. Hence, the Bible remains a clarifying lens for all times and places…for our times and places.

    Love and gratitude,


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