Friends or Family
Proper 12, Year A, Track 1, Genesis 29:15-28,Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, like leavening, like a treasure, like a merchant, and like a net. What an interesting random assortment of things the kingdom of heaven is like. From this description that Jesus offers, it is clear that the kingdom of heaven is absolutely unclear to us. He gives us five examples to clarify what the kingdom of heaven is like but in the end, it still seems muddy. Where are the pearly gates? Where are the streets paved with gold? Even Jacob’s vision of a ladder with angels ascending and descending seemed to make more sense than these parables. The pearly gates and gold are ideas that we can see clearly in our minds, but the kingdom of heaven is like a net or a merchant? This is more difficult.
Maybe it would be more helpful to start with our Old Testament lesson; a story of Jacob and his uncle, Laban. Laban promised Jacob his daughter Rachel after seven years of work. Quickly into this story, we find that Laban deceives Jacob into marrying his older, less beautiful daughter Leah. Ironically Jacob is no stranger to deception. After all, in the last moments of Jacob’s father’s life, Jacob puts a hairy glove on his hand so that his dying, blind father would think that Jacob was actually his brother Esau. Jacob deceived his father in getting his brothers blessing. Prior to this, Jacob swindled his brother out of his birthright for a bowl of lentils and some bread. If we were Hindu we may say that this deception in marriage is karma at work. What I see is that this is really an instance of human nature and the world we live in.
We often try to get what we can by whatever means possible from another person; in this case even our family members. It is hard to know who the victim is. We initially want to say it is Jacob but what about Leah or Rachel? The voices of Leah and Rachel are silent in this passage. Imagine being the unwanted wife. Leah had to know that Jacob was betrothed to Rachael. We know that Jacob really didn’t want Leah, after all, he negotiates for another seven years of labor to obtain Rachel’s hand in marriage. But if Leah didn’t want to marry Jacob, why did Leah stay quiet on the night they lay together? Some scholars speculate that this was Leah’s best opportunity to get married. She was the older and less attractive daughter.
Jacob is one of the important Patriarchs of the Old Testament. He is revered in all three of the Abrahamic religions. Yet he and his family members are imperfect. I doubt they would have wanted all these details written in a book for all of history. This is what I find so helpful is these stories. Jacob is just as human as the rest of us. They do terrible things to each other. Yet God is with them. God is with him and still offers him blessings upon blessings. I’m sure that Jacob didn’t see this trickery of a marriage as a blessing at the time but Leah is the first of his four wives. She bore 6 of his 12 sons that become the 12 tribes of Israel. Maybe if we take a slight step back, we find that it is in these real life hardships that the net is like the kingdom of heaven.. Remember, the net contains fish of every kind; fish that we like and fish that we don’t.
Even as Jacob goes through life family deception doesn’t end. Of his twelve sons, the two youngest were born from Rachel; Joseph and Benjamin. As you may recall Joseph’s brothers sold him as a slave and they told his father that he was consumed by a wild animal. This loss was brought on by Jacob’s clear fondness for the sons that Rachel, his favorite wife, bore him; especially Joseph. Learning of Joseph’s death nearly killed him. Years later we hear of a blessing that comes from this tragedy when Joseph is found as a leader in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. This blessing is the treasure that was found while working a field. Jacob would have done anything, sold all that he had, to be reunited with Joseph. And that is what he did. After they found each other the family moved to Egypt. It was through hardship that they were reunited to Joseph and it had to be hard to move your entire family to Egypt. Through our toils and tribulations, through hardship of any magnitude, we can find blessings. It may just take time. It may take a long time to realize them.
This joy that Jacob experienced must be like the joy that the merchant felt when he found a pearl of great value. It is this joy that I believe equates to the kingdom of heaven as being like a woman putting yeast in flour. With yeast, dough grows and expands. It can be contiguous. You can take some of this dough to become starter, the yeast, for another batch of dough. The kingdom of heaven expands, grows, and spreads. And I believe joy is a sure sign of this.
We often think of the parable of the man who finds treasure in a field and the man who finds a pearl of great value, to be redundant. There are some commonalities. Both men sell all they have to buy this thing that is even more valuable and makes them joyful. But these stories are actually very different. One says the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. The kingdom of heaven is treasure just waiting to be found; even stumbled upon accidentally. The other says the kingdom of heaven is like the merchant. We don’t often hear it this way but this is what it says. The kingdom is of heaven is not like the pearl but it is like the merchant. We find that the merchant is selective and discerning. He is actively searching for something of great beauty and value; something that can be picked up, and cherished.
We know that we, as individuals, are not the kingdom of heaven, But that the kingdom of heaven is searching for something valuable. When we look at the Gospels, and specifically Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel account, Jesus said not to worry about life. God will clothe you more beautifully than these lilies and you’re more valuable than any of the birds in the heavens. Because we are valued in God’s eyes, we must be the pearl being sought out and being treasured. We find that God is seeking each of us out like the pearl while at the same time we could stumble upon the Kingdome of heaven while we are doing our daily work like the man plowing the field.
There is an old idiom that we can choose our friends but we cannot choose our family. And there is a lot of truth in this. For we know that we can be horrible to one another and that it is harder to break family bonds. We know that we have been hurt by our family at least at one time or another. Jacob wasn’t perfect. His family wasn’t the Brady Bunch. And I imagine your family is much like mine and we have our share of warts and bruises. It is through the paradoxes of the kingdom of heaven, that we can find great hope. The kingdom of heaven surrounds us, holds us tight, and is inescapable. We can embrace the tightness of this net as we squirm against the people we don’t like or who are different from us. We are also assured that the kingdom of heaven is searching us out while we at the same time, through our work, and struggles, we stumble upon this kingdom as treasure in a field all the time. Maybe all we need to do is open our eyes just a bit wider so that we can recognize the kingdom of heaven in the world and in each other, and be filled with boundless joy.