When I moved into my house ten years ago, the builder planted a five-foot oak tree in the front yard and a dozen small shrubs along the front wall of the house. A parishioner gave us a couple of small oak trees for the back yard. I planted some plumbago in the back yard a year later, along with two rose bushes on the south and a half-dozen rose bushes on the east side of the house, and in the third year three other varieties of shrubbery and a small mistletoe tree along the fence in the backyard.
As a result, I now have a greater appreciation for Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. I have discovered that plumbago cannot be contained; I’ve heard it called a Mexican weed. I cut the bushes down to the ground every spring and by this time of the year I must trim them again just to keep them on my side of the property and out of my air conditioning unit. My oak trees now tower over my house. You could even say that my house has become a tree house compared to the growing scale of the oaks. The afternoon shade I longed for ten years ago for the lenai on the sunset side of the house has long since arrived. I must now trim out the lower branches of the oak in front to keep it from touching my roof or extending over the street. One of my rose bushes is so vigorous that when I thought I had fatally wounded it this spring with my weedwhacker and consequently cut it at ground level below its wound, Anna and I now marvel at the fact that it has leaped back up nearly to the roofline of the house.
And all this amazing, irresistible growth has happened almost despite me. Like the parable of the mustard seed, more and more birds are finding at least a rest area if not a nest in our backyard trees. Jesus is telling us that the kingdom of heaven is like this. It will start small, but it will grow to make enough room for everybody. Everybody: jays and crows, doves and sparrows, cardinals and mocking birds.
When the church rectory that my family was living in fifteen years ago was burglarized, the one thing with immediate value on the street that they did not take in their haste was a pearl necklace I had given to Anna on our tenth wedding anniversary. I can still remember how relieved and grateful we were that the pearl necklace had been spared, shielded in God’s providence, if you will, because it was a precious sign of our love as husband and wife.
When Jesus goes on to compare the kingdom of God to a pearl of supreme, infinite value, it’s not difficult for me to understand that having a loving relationship with God with the pearl of his Son, Jesus, is the most precious gift of all, an incomparable gift that we would gladly suffer the loss of everything else that he might have and to hold us forever, and not just for this life.
And when Jesus compares his kingdom to a woman who mixes a little yeast into fifty pounds of flour, I am reminded of those days when I tried my hand at baking and I marveled even then at what a little packet of yeast can do, even if the recipe called for me to punch down the rising lump of dough. Jesus seems to be telling us that the yeast he has come to mix into this world will have the same certain and all-embracing quality, that his love will prove, in the end, to be irresistible to everyone. If ever there was a Biblical warrant for universal salvation, this and the parable of the mustard seed is it: the whole lump of creation transformed, a tree big enough for every bird.
I think that’s why Jesus also includes the parable of the mixed catch of fish as well as the parable of the wheat and weeds last week, out of respect for God’s gift of our freedom as human beings to live apart from him, if that is our desire, even as his love woos us as no other love can do. Jesus is saying that everyone will want to live with God, everyone will have that desire as a result of his love, even if some may choose to want something else in the end.
If we turn to the remaining parable in today’s gospel, the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, we can see that living with God and knowing his love is the ultimate treasure that allows us to keep all our other possessions in their proper perspective, as grounded in God’s incomparable love, originating in him from whom every good and perfect gift comes.
In our collect this morning we prayed that we might so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal. Jesus parables are designed to help us do just that, by reassuring us that God is in control, that he loves everyone and that he wants everyone to discover his love and to live in his love, and that nothing else matters in the end, as well as in the meantime.
We have another prayer in the back of our prayer book in which we ask God to help us make good use of our leisure: “O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Jesus is encouraging us in his parables this morning to expect, to seek, to accept and to rest in his love, to be renewed and refreshed by his love, to find our home in him, to dread nothing but the loss of him who cares for us.
May God open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the reality of his kingdom in our present circumstances, trusting that as small and as hidden as his kingdom may be at present, it’s what we’re searching for, it’s our heart’s desire, and it is what God wants for us more than anything else in all the world. AMEN.