Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 26 July 2020.
• First Reading: Genesis 29: 15-28 (Jacob deceived by Laban)
• Psalm 105: 1-11, 45b (Search for the Lord and His strength, continually seek His face, remember the marvels He has done)
• Epistle: Romans 8: 26-39 (If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ?)
• Gospel: Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52 (Parables of the Kingdom: the mustard seed, the yeast in the flour, treasure in the field, pearl of great price, the fish net)
For many, the evidence of world pandemic, starvation, terrorism, and ecological breakdown – never mind social, economic, political and cultural disintegration – do not provide much support for any kind of God, never mind one who is passionately and personally committed to every soul that lives and has lived or will live on this planet.
And yet during a time of personal turmoil, I recall thinking – and I distinctly remember where and when I came to this conclusion, that I could not believe that there was NOT a reason and a purpose behind it all.
This thought has stayed with me through many ups and downs in life. Indeed, it has been strengthened by the conclusion that there can only be two alternatives:
One is that the whole of life is totally random and chaotic, and the second is that it is neither random nor chaotic. The point being that this randomness and chaos must extend to the most microscopic level possible and to the level of the smallest particle known to or guessed by humanity.
The evidence here is all around me, for my body and the bodies of all others in the human race is made to function on the same principles and with the same kinds of organs. Order is there in the sciences, for how otherwise could there be any science?
No, for me the evidence of the person and the Kingdom of God is all around me, even in people who deny its possibility, never mind its existence.
But then Jesus has a lot to say about the Kingdom of God and in Matthew’s gospel there are two sets of teachings about it. One is before the beheading of John the Baptist and during the height of Jesus’ ministry, while the other is in Jerusalem when He has already spoken about coming persecutions, the end of the age and withdrawal of the church from the world.
Our lessons for today start with Jacob, the ‘tricksy one’ being deceived by his kinsman and boss, Laban, into marrying a daughter to whom he had no particular feeling and then had to work a further 7 years in order to marry Rachel. Life was not such a peach then.
And he may well have wondered just what God was doing to him.
But Jesus had His own perspective on the Kingdom and the purposes of God.
First, as a mustard seed, it was the working and the mystery of God Himself. It was not there to be imagined or built by human programmes or organizations. Rather, it was there in the mind of God and it was being built from the most hidden beginnings within the heart and soul of each person who turned to Him.
From the smallest of beginnings God would cultivate it, nurture it, prune it and harvest it in the lives of those who were committed to His purposes. It was first of all a spiritual and not a political or social reality, and its nature and its characteristics as well as its fruits and achievements would first of all be spiritual, working themselves out in the facts and details of peoples’ lives.
Then like yeast in the flour, it would spread out its influence. Just as it would give character and body to the whole measure of flour, so it would spread through the life of the believer, transforming and changing even the most hidden and personal parts of life.
It would be continuous and what was once lifeless would now bring strength and nutrition to others.
The treasure in the field and the pearl of great price both point to a change of priorities in the one who searched them out. Now nothing else was worth working for or seeking out. This was to be the greatest prize of all and all other aspects of life would find their place in the light of that prize.
It would be the first and greatest thing in life and it would define the value of all else.
Then there is the dragnet, from which all would be gathered and sorted at the end of the voyage. Yes, there would be a judgment and yes, the best would be kept, but what was of no value or purpose would be discarded. It is a more solemn parable, pointing to a time when things would be drawn together and yes there would be a judgment.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he states his total conviction in the love and the goodness of God.
For the soul who was committed to God’s purposes then nothing would ever be able to separate him of her from those purposes and nothing in life or death, the past or the present, no level of tempest or disaster, no political regime or cultural imposition, no war or disaster or breakdown would ever be able to separate the disciples of Jesus Christ from the love of God.
All things would work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes.
For our times when we have been and are still being shaken in our lifestyles and perspectives, when cultural values seem to be overturned so easily and with so little resistance or question, and when political, social and cultural loyalties and identities are themselves being shaken then we are having to look back at our faith and how it leads us.
The salvation of Jesus and the life of the church were never to be just for the good times, when there was a relative plenty and security.
They were always to be there when times were tense, when security seemed to be undermined, when all values were being questioned if not denied altogether. When all institutions which had seemed so solid crumble under the pressure of events.
The Kingdom of God has a life and a currency independent of human institutions and structures. It is founded on what God has already done in Jesus Christ and it is in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit that we are guided to seek it, find it, follow it and to allow it to grow within us and among us.
Jesus is the Light of the World, especially for dark times. He is the Word for times of confusion and ignorance. He is the Way to the Father when all other paths offer darkness and condemnation.
And nothing is able to separate us from the lover of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.