Understand: Saying Yes to Jesus’ Parables

What was the last question you said “yes” to? And did you really mean it? In today’s reading from Matthew 13:31-33,44-52, we read parable after parable describing the Kingdom of God. All of these parables are short, sweet, and inexact. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, yeast, treasure, a searching merchant, a net, and a scribe. Many of these “likes” are a bit absurd. A person finds treasure and hides it in a field. They then buy the field and keep their treasure buried. A merchant is looking for pearls, finds one, and then stops being a merchant. The fisherman waits until the fish are on the shore before he sorts through his catch but he doesn’t toss the unwanted creatures back into the water. And then, after a chapter full of parables, Jesus asked his disciples, “Have you understood all this?” And the disciples said, “Yes.”

This doesn’t feel like a honest yes. When we step back and look at everything in Matthew 13, this “yes” by the disciples reads like a “yes” trying to get Jesus to stop talking. Over and over and over again, Jesus teaches them with a parable. The disciples are overwhelmed by absurd stories and they are not given the time to process what they’re hearing. So when Jesus finally paused and asked them a question, they respond with just, “yes.” They don’t even try to explain what they understand. Jesus understands what they are doing so he responds with another parable about scribes.

According to Richard Lischer in his book Reading the Parables, scribes in Jesus day were not like a master of a household. Scribes were important. They knew how to read and write. They were employed to take notes, write contracts, and compose letters. Even the apostle Paul used scribes to write his letters down. Scribes are useful but they are not the head of the household. They are hired by the head of the household. Yet Jesus says the disciples “will preserve…all that is eternal in the law and the righteousness of God, and so doing will find the greatest treasure of all.” The absurdity of Jesus’ ministry is that his followers of tax collectors, fishermen, women, and sinners will know, find, and pass God’s holiness and goodness to those around them.

Parables are not simple stories we’re asked to only understand. They are stories we’re supposed to chew on, over and over again. When we struggle with Jesus’ words, we discover who God is and what God expects of us. Jesus’ journey with us isn’t about providing easy answers to the dilemmas we face. Instead, he prepares us to live in the world like he does. And that world can sometimes be absurd.

Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for 8th Sunday After Pentecost, 7/30/2017.