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Weekly Bible Reflection
Matthew's Communities of Justice


Sundays after Trinity (6)

Matthew 13. 31-33, 44-52
: “A world upside down and inside out”

Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing together

Have you ever been taken by surprise when something small and seemingly insignificant later becomes the most important thing in your life or the life of your (Christian) community?

Reflection on the text

Matthew uses a series of Jesus’ parables to provide different snapshots of the gospel’s ‘master image’ – the kingdom of heaven. The parables – those ‘puzzling stories that could turn a person’s world upside down’ – point to a total reordering of relationships and resources in the world, in the community of faith and in the lives of individuals according to God’s original intention for creation.

Where do we look for signs of this heavenly kingdom of justice? Is it in all that the world regards as successful – in wealth, power, and stardom? Is it in rich mega-churches and powerful celebrity preachers? The parable of the mustard seed (v 31-32) and leaven (v 33) suggest the very opposite: the kingdom is to be found in the small, humble and unexpected. What a change this would have been for those who heard Jesus and whose lives were marked by hard work, exploitation and oppression under the rich and powerful landowners and the religious leaders and officials who worked with the Roman regime.

Against all the odds, God’s reign is breaking into earth history. In the midst of the world’s pain, brokenness, impoverishment and despair, an insignificant seed of love and hope has fallen into the soil of humanity and, slowly and secretly, is pushing its way up and growing into the greatest of trees in which all will find shelter. We are to be in the world as yeast, resisting all that is unjust and destructive of human and environmental flourishing.

The parables of the hidden treasure and pearl of great price (v 44-46) teach us that the kingdom is so desirable and precious that a person must sacrifice everything in order to obtain it. When we’ve found this treasure, this gem, that opens the gateway to new life, and recognised how priceless it really is, we have to be ready to give up everything – absolutely everything we possess – for it “demands our souls, our lives, our all”. There are echoes here of Matt 6 v 33. See also Matt 6 v 19 – 21 and the pointlessness of storing up and putting our faith in worldly treasures. How we deal with affluence as individuals and as church will indicate how deep our kingdom faith really goes.

The parable of the drag-net (v 47-50) refers to a particular way of fishing from a boat similar to modern trawling in that the net draws in all kinds of fish indiscriminately along with flotsam and jetsam. It usually required a number of men to draw in such a large haul.

Jesus makes clear that there is to be no discrimination on the part of the church in mission, all are welcome irrespective of their criminal record, their race, their usefulness. Any necessary sorting of the just from the unjust is God’s job. There are echoes here of the parable of the Wheat and Weeds (Matt. 13:24-30).
Application: some questions for group discussion:
  1. In light of these parables that suggest ‘small is beautiful’, what dangers are associated with thinking of church success in terms of numbers, resources and influence? Is Jesus’ call to discipleship a call for the church to ‘downsize’ in our day? If so, how might that be expressed?
  2. How does a church go about ‘selling up everything’ in order to take hold of the treasure of the kingdom?
  3. Does your church tend to ‘sort out’ the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’ in the way it goes about its mission? Are we friends of the oppressed poor, marginalised and people with disabilities and welcome them into our company or do we only embrace with those who look like they’d be a great ‘asset’ and help us get ahead in life? What mechanisms are at work in the life of your fellowship to exclude rather than embrace?
  4. What ‘leavening’ work is your church community engaged in, in society? Share some personal stories.
Praying Together

We recommend that you purchase some mustard seeds prior to the meeting and at the beginning of the time of prayer distribute one to each person in the circle. You might like to use the material at http://liturgyoutside.net/BPr6OT11.html as a basis for your prayers or http://liturgyoutside.net/APeaceParables.html#search and/or http://revsbrown.tripod.com/aplaceforprayer/id53.html.

More background information
  1. Note the importance of house in relation to the parables. Jesus makes his stories available to the general public (13v 2,3,34). But the house remain central an the focus of more detailed explanation of the parables to the disciples. Michael H Crosby, in House of Disciples (p 69) points out that ‘in ancient usage the house was equated with treasure (thesaurous) or possessions. The house of Israel was the personal possession of God (Ex 19:5)…In 13:44 the treasure represents the householder’s understanding of the reign of God.’

  2. For a moving application of the parables of the kingdom in our context go to http://www.wordmadeflesh.com/learn/summer2005.pdf and scroll to page 12, ‘A Seed of the Kingdom’, by David Chronic, and then scroll to page 15 to read ‘DragonFlies’ by Cami Sigler.

  3. The parable of the Net is found only in Matthew, although the Gospel of Thomas (logion 8) has a similar parable called the Parable of the Wise Fisherman. The parable in the Gospel of Thomas is very different, but Matthew is the probable source.

    It would have been very common sight, along the shores of Lake Galilee, to see the fishermen going through the day’s catch, keeping the good fish and throwing away the bad (unclean). The fish deemed “good” were taken to market in baskets and had to be ritually clean with fins and scales. The “bad” fish, without fins and scales, were thrown out (see Lev 11:9-12; Deut 14:9) onto a rubbish tip.

  4. See Barbara Glasson’s book: Mixed-up Blessing – about the Liverpool ‘Bread Church’, paperback, 2006, Inspire – retails at £5.99. Barbara Glasson, a Methodist minister in Liverpool City Centre, works with an emerging church community that bakes bread. She trained in agricultural sciences at Nottingham University before studying theology at Nottingham and Hull. She is also a mother, poet and a walker of dogs.

    "'Mixed-up Blessing' is more than the wonderful story of the birth of the bread church among the people who inhabit the centre of Liverpool. Barbara Glasson encourages us to live more deeply the questions within our own place and among the people whose lives we share. We are drawn into a conversation about our own journey into new ways of being a community of faith. Theological reflection and the fresh discovery of hallmarks of genuine Christian Community are placed within the context of fragile, bruised and untidy lives, among people on the way to transformation. This is a book to relish and share as we do bread baked and broken among us." (Donald Eadie, Methodist Minister, Birmingham.) See http://www.holyjoe.co.uk/articles/acommunitysomewhereelse.html.

  5. See Violent parables and the Non-Violent Jesus at http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/ParablesStudyGuide4.pdf.

  6. See Jerry Goebel’s commentary which looks at scripture from a justice perspective at http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/Matthew/mt_13_31-33_44-52.html.

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