Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Using Both Old and New....

THE EIGHTH Sunday after Pentecost brings us along a path made from a constructed collection of our Lord’s parables. Judiciously arranging the order of conversation given in biblical script, the Holy Spirit thus provided us with rapid, lively character. Our Lord had progressively illustrated the dramatic growth and value that belongs to the kingdom of heaven...

Another parable he (Jesus) put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.
 “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
                                                                          (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)

Anticipated Sorting!
In literary flow, I believe modern worship planners have designed a wonderful two-step dance in moving us from last week’s Matthean text... toward today's text.. Combining last week’s lesson and this, we receive interwoven parables from the Matthean scribe. These progressively tell those gathered, a wonderful teaching about the unfolding revelation of our Lord. I note with pastoral chagrin, however, that anyone missing attendance at either worship experience loses a great deal in the continuity of the text.
 The parables we study here start by relating to us the lesson of the “The Mustard Seed”. This text has a distinct historical source for us when compared with that which immediately follows. It is found chronologically in all three of the synoptic gospels of Mark (c. 65-70 AD), and Luke (c. 80-85 AD) and Matthew (c. 80-85 AD).
 Being found in the earliest Markan gospel, therefore, we see the first teaching likely had root in a tradition that came from an earlier time. From the prophet Daniel we read…

"The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth; and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were fair and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the air dwelt in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it." (Daniel 4:10-12)

 Subsequently, we see that this first parable began as Jesus taught the disciples using scriptural tradition as his resource. However, the parables that follow this first illustration in the reading, are a bit different. These include those which Jesus also told, but were supplied to us today only by the church of Matthew. Therefore, we as a church now rightly receive these readings just as our ancient Matthean forebears.
 This selective editing tactic is one that we often use in our lectionary today! To provide weekly lessons, we may skip over less relevant verses from a gospel author...  to concentrate and, possibly combine certain interwoven texts. We see that certainly, our Matthean predecessor historically set this tone for us... as Jesus’ teachings here come from various sources collectively compiled to emphasize certain aspects of our Lord’s voicing.
 The theme was mainly of inherent growth for the kingdom, as first illustrated from Mark. This was firmly reinforced by the second illustration found to be from the “Q” source. The second parable of the woman's leaven, as given by Jesus, was used in this gospel to doubly emphasize the first theme. The latter illustration, coming out from the independent "Q" source that has now been reconstructed by modern scholarship, clearly shows us that the second parable added reinforces the former!
 Our Lord, and Matthew.... through the the guidance of the Holy Spirit, clearly followed a "Tell them once, tell 'em twice... and tell 'em again" teaching style! Further, we note that a progressive difference exists in the level of revelation!
 In Matthew, that which was hidden in Mark was revealed by a “supernatural” power, like the woman's leavening... a working marvel beyond knowing. This was presented more firmly in Matthew as the next parable highlighted the surprise and value caused when the person in the parable apprehended true gems of the kingdom. The growth theme found initially in the first parable's Markan field... was progressively followed by the pearl of “great price”. The emphasis of the more highly valued illustrated the unexpected event, undeserved grace and mysterious growth of God’s supernatural kingdom.
 Here we must also note that these important latter verses are without parallel in the other gospels. Consequently we find that in Matthew, through the Holy Spirit... led both the early church in Antioch and we ourselves toward a final message.

Conclusion and Testing!
The final point is revealed in the sorting of the netted fish. In placing this parable as such, our Matthean scribe clearly told his readers that... though hidden like fish in murky water... eventually all shall be gathered. The lesson given last week, reminds that even unto this present day, we forgiven sinners shall co-exist with unbelievers into the latter age. We read in this climactic illustration, that Jesus related to the disciples once again about the final, apocalyptic workings of the kingdom.
 Notice that these last verses as told by Matthew, used symbols from the fishing lifestyle. The images, mirror those of the agricultural scene previously revealed... about the wheat and the weeds. Indeed we find that Matthew, by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, provided a rapid succession of teachings which had been earlier given. Teach'em and teach'em again!

Do You Understand?
Therefore we see that the later first century disciples in Matthew's community were given these lessons progressively, the first being agricultural and the second seafaring, so the gospel reading built up their knowledge. Therefore the teaching ended appropriately with showing our Teacher testing his immediate followers, and the church which followed a the time...  a very important question… “Have you understood all this?”
  We also need to answer the question. The text related that the disciples answered very quickly in the affirmative… possibly too quickly. "Why so?" we might wonder.
 Consider that we know the chasm between the Infinite and our finite human cannot be crossed by human thought or effort. Therefore, the meanings for Jesus' first listeners were shrouded by human sin, and the meanings could only be truly revealed to them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Many followers who originally listened to Jesus' parables, like Peter who very likely passed these parables on to the Matthean church, would not completely understand them until after the Teacher would die for them and be Resurrected.

Old and New!
 In the last sentence of our reading for today, we see that Jesus taught them using sound parabolic method. This method, as shown by Matthew’s writing, was that our Lord instructed  his disciples to take what is found as reliable and true from the old established traditoin, and mix it rightly with the good news. Today, using these guidelines, we of the Church may thus preach both biblical Law and the Gospel to sinners and saints. Unlike those first, finite disciples who were described as prior to the crucifixion and Resurrection... who lacked somewhat the full guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are now are privileged in like manner to Matthew's church. We now have access to scripture, rightly interpreted.
 Because of that powerful, spiritual presence in the early church of Matthew... and that which is also present in the church today… we can bring forth an abundance of scriptural hiddenness to the world around us. We are able in prayer to draw correct, yet numerous applied meanings from these wondrous parables. What is more... we can prayerfully attempt to not add any human agenda.
 We are indeed blessed! We are like a man finding a treasure in a field, and leaves worship rejoicing. May we leave clinging to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we live in the world... and move toward the “close of the age.”

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