Have you ever tried to explain to a friend, who has never visited, about your home town? It can be a bit disconcerting when you start to describe what for you is so familiar and heart warming, and you look up to see descending over your friend's eyes a haze, the eyelids starting to droop, the head beginning to nod. (Not that any of us have ever had this happen when WE told a story!)
It must have been that way sometimes for Jesus, talking with his new friends, the disciples, about the Kingdom of God. They (like us) were so caught up in the intrigue of living day to day in the world as they knew it, that they must have found it almost impossible to even imagine a way of looking at things that was so totally different from anything they had ever known.
And so Jesus resorted to parables: little stories, sometimes just images, to get beneath the usual way of seeing and thinking about things. We can imagine Jesus, walking with his disciples, suddenly realizing, as they spoke together, that these disciples didn't really understand the abundance of the life of the Kingdom, its irresistible force, the promises it held. How do you get people to really commit to a new way of living if they can't even imagine what it's like?
So Jesus used simple but compelling images and set them before his listeners: the parables.
"The Kingdom of Heaven" -- this incredible way of living which is promised to you and in which we can grow together right now, even in the midst of our day to day lives. This "Kingdom of Heaven" -- which is possible even if you don't have confidence in it. You may take the things I am saying to you and brush them off, like the winged seeds that fall unnoticed on your shoulder -- but in fact the Kingdom of Heaven, which is promised you, is like those seeds!
Like the smallest of seeds that you have ever seen-the mustard seed. Take even the tiniest seed and plant it in the ground and it can grow beyond your wildest dreams. Can you believe in the possibility of this life I have been talking about with you? You must! For if you believe in that life and its possibility, then you will see it.
In fact, the life of the Kingdom is growing among us whether we cooperate or not. It is an irresistible force which cannot be stopped. It's like the yeast, the leaven, which a baker "hides" in three measures of flour so that his loaf of bread will rise.
Now, if I were telling this parable to my friends for the first time, I would probably tell them a story about a friend of mine named Judy. Judy was the kind of person for whom everything always seemed to go wrong. If Judy went skiing, she would always fall and fracture a leg or an arm. If she were walking down a country lane on a bright summer day and paused for a moment to lean on the end of a long picketed fence-it would topple, falling to the ground in one sweeping motion. Once, on the streets of the city where she lived, she was mugged-just outside her own apartment building! Wanting to remain unharmed, she cooperated with the mugger. But when she reached into her pocket to find money for him, she discovered that she had only two cents. The mugger wouldn't believe her until she emptied all her pockets before him! Something always went wrong for poor Judy.
In any case, one day, Judy decided to bake bread. She took out the recipe and carefully gathered all the ingredients it called for; then she began to follow the recipe. Except that Judy made one little mistake. Instead of adding one cake of yeast to the mix as required, she added one whole box-several cakes of yeast.
You can imagine what happened. The dough began to grow and grow and grow. She added more flour-and it kept growing and growing. She added more water, and it kept growing. More salt, more wheat germ, more oil-and it just kept growing and growing. She tried cutting the mound of dough in half, pounding it, caressing it, covering it, pleading with it-and it kept growing and growing and growing.
Finally, in desperation, Judy went out and buried the huge lump of dough in her front yard, came back inside, and sat down in the living room to watch TV. Within an hour, her father came bursting through the front door screaming: "THERE'S SOMETHING GROWING IN OUR FRONT YARD!!!"
You know what happened. The heat of the sun on that summer day beat down on that ill-fated mound of dough, that unbaked loaf, even though it was buried in the ground and brought the yeast back to life-and it had started growing again and BURST out of the ground! Even its grave couldn't contain it, so irresistible was the life of that yeast which Judy had hidden in her bread dough.
Yes -- the kingdom of heaven IS like the yeast which a baker "hid" in three measures of flour. The life of the Kingdom, promised to all of us, has a life of its own, a life which we cannot destroy or even deter. This is life hidden within our lives together, and if we would only believe in it and embrace it, it would be fully ours. And it WILL invade our lives, each of our lives, some day, and fill us with possibilities which we don't even dare to imagine for ourselves right now.
"Do you not know the joy you will find in embracing that life?" Jesus asks us that question with all of his disciples. "Why, it is as if you found a treasure hidden in a field, which you have just discovered and which you know to be so great a treasure that if you only had it, all that you ever dreamed of could be yours. And so, gladly, you run (don't walk) to the nearest real estate agent and buy that field, spending everything you have ever earned in your life for the possibility of having that treasure. You know that isn't a hardship or a loss-for that treasure is so precious that giving everything away to have it only fills you with joy. Have you ever held your child and thought things like that?
And even if you ever dreamed that life COULD hold such joy for you, did you ever wonder how much you would have to do to be prepared to receive such a life? Have you ever thought that if you were ever to "qualify" to receive such a life, such a treasure, such promise, such joy, you would surely need to be standing on the right corner, at the right time, with the right people, doing the right things when this Kingdom came your way?
"NO WAY!" -- says Jesus. This same Kingdom of Heaven is like a net, which is thrown over all of us at once, and we are drawn together, pulled, despite our better judgement, into the lap of our loving God, who will, in God's own way and time, lift us up out of the tangled web of life to receive the fullness of life everlasting, the life promised to us all.
Can you begin to get excited about what Jesus is promising us here? Can we allow ourselves to believe that each of us might have that life, filled with such promise, such joy, such confidence, such power, such possibility? "Boy, I hope so," says Jesus. "But just in case you don't get it yet, let me tell you another parable .â¦"