Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Seeing the Kingdom All Around You

Jesus told the disciples “kingdom stories” so that they would know both what they were “looking for” and “looking at.” Jesus asked them, “Have you understood all these things?” to equip them to understand what was happening in them and around them!

Immediately following the “kingdom parables” Matthew tells five stories where these parables are instructive concerning real life events. The story of Jesus visiting the synagogue at Nazareth and Herod’s beheading of John are both rejection stories. The people of Nazareth stood in the very presence of Jesus, but they allowed their familiarity to breed contempt. Herod spoke with John, one of the greatest of the prophets, yet killed him because of an oath he made on a whim. Both are stories of hard paths where the seed of the gospel just cannot break through. The disciples needed to know what rejection looked like and they found out in these two stories.

After hearing of John’s death Jesus tried unsuccessfully to get away by himself with his disciples. The crowd followed Jesus so he taught and healed them. As evening approached the disciples told Jesus to send the crowd away. Testing the faith of his disciples, Jesus said, “You give them something to eat.” The disciples presented the small amount of food they had available as evidence that they could not feed the crowd. Jesus took their meager offering – gave thanks and broke it – and the disciples distributed it to the large crowd. When everyone had eaten the disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers! If they thought about Jesus’ kingdom of heaven stories, bells should have been ringing: a small seed becomes a large plant, or a little yeast creates a lot of bread! Rather than looking at their lack, they could have, like Jesus, trusted their Father who provides abundantly. If they had been thinking of the farmer who sowed seed, they may have recognized themselves as the shallow soil.

After feeding the crowd, Jesus sent the disciples away by boat, dismissed the crowd, and went to pray. After hours of prayer, Jesus walked on the lake to his disciples who were struggling to get to their destination because the wind was against the boat. Seeing a figure walking on the water, the disciples were terrified, prompting Jesus to identify himself “It is I. Don’t be afraid!” Peter then made the craziest request – “Lord, if it is you, let me come to you on the water.” Jesus agreed and Peter walked out of the boat and almost to Jesus. But Peter took notice of the wind, which might have reminded him of the fact that people cannot walk on water. As he was sinking, he called out to Jesus – “Lord, save me.” Jesus did, of course, and together they walked back to the boat. Then those WHO WERE IN THE BOAT worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Big words for people who were reluctant to step out in faith. Peter was the only one wet that morning, but he was also given a powerful lesson about having a crowded heart – while walking on water (or through life!) there is not room for faith in Jesus and fear of the wind! Could Peter ever hear the story of the farmer sowing seed without remembering the day his crowded heart literally made him sink?

When Jesus and his disciples arrived at Gennesaret, they discovered a fertile field for their ministry. The people “recognized” Jesus and sent word for people to come. People came and healing was abundant. This is given as a summary statement, not as a series of stories giving details about those who were healed. According to the Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, Gennesaret was a place with very fertile soil. Jesus and his disciples discovered that it was a very fertile field indeed!

Jesus did not teach the parables of the kingdom to be entertaining, but to provide a sort of spiritual map with which to understand the events and the people swirling around you, and to judge the shape of your own heart.

- Kenny Payne

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