Sermon: "Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Genesis 29.15-28; Psalm 105.1-11, 45b; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
Today’s gospel reading omits verses 34 – 43. Actually, we covered verses 36 – 43 last week – Jesus’ interpretation of the parable of the weeds. But what about verses 34 – 35? What has been omitted? One reads, “Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world’” (NRSV).
It may be a bit of an exaggeration to claim Jesus told the crowds nothing except for speaking in parables. After all, there is some straight-forward teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, e.g., “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5 .43-45;l NRSV). Matthew may have had two Old Testament passages in mind. First, Psalm 78:
Hear my teaching, O my people;
Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will declare the mysteries of ancient times,
That which we have heard and known,
And what our forefathers have told us,
We will not hide from their children (Vss. 1-3; BCP).
Second, Isaiah, speaking to the house of Jacob, notes their lack of truth and righteousness despite which God spoke revealing things that would come to pass so they could not claim their idols and carved images had caused such things. Now the people would hear new things, things hidden since the foundation of the world. Attend to Isaiah’s words:
Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and who came forth from the loins of Judah; who swear by the name of the Lord, and invoke the God of Israel, but not in truth or right. 2 For they call themselves after the holy city, and lean on the God of Israel; the Lord of hosts is his name.
3 The former things I declared long ago, they went out from my mouth and I made them known; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass. … 5 I declared them to you from long ago, before they came to pass I announced them to you, so that you would not say, “My idol did them, my carved image and my cast image commanded them.”
6 You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known (Isaiah 48.1- 3, 5- 6; NRSV).
But why resort to parables? Why not say what needs to be said more directly? Parables serve to confront; a parable is meant to provoke thought leading to action. Consider the parable Nathan told to King David about the rich man with many flocks and herds and the poor man with but one ewe lamb. When the rich man had a guest, rather than take one of his own lambs to prepare a feast, he took the poor man’s little ewe lamb. David was incensed; he said the man deserved to die – that he should restore the lamb four-fold because he showed no pity. Nathan then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 1-14; NRSV) This parable confronted King David and led to his repentance.
David McCracken notes, “Parables do not ‘contain’ knowledge; they cannot be understood as we understand a moral tale, an argument, or a statement. Parables precipitate internal action, forcing the hearer or reader to a crisis or collision that requires movement, which in New Testament terms is an either/or: either stumbling or changing-and-becoming, either enacting a lie that we desire or being transformed” (http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/proper12a/ ).
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed … The kingdom of heaven is like yeast … The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field … The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls … The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish …” Jesus was confronting his hearers with the advent of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus came ushering in the kingdom of heaven! The coming of the kingdom of heaven, the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, followed by the arrival of the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, sent by Jesus, fulfilled God’s plan of salvation. These are the things “hidden since the foundation of the world.” Jesus’ parables confront us, they “precipitate internal action”, they serve to bring us “to a crisis or collision which requires movement!”
When we think of the kingdom of heaven as like a mustard see or yeast, we are challenged to think of how small our faith initially is, yet as we live into Christ, as we are transformed, our faith grows – it branches out, it permeates all with which it comes in contact.
When we think of the kingdom of heaven as like as treasure one discovers in a field, it may help to reflect on Jesus Christ as the “new treasure buried in the field of humanity” (Gillick S. J., Larry. https://liturgy.slu.edu/17OrdA072620/reflections_gillick.html ). When we discover the value of this treasure, the value of relationship in Christ, we should joyfully sell all else that we might obtain this treasure.
The parable of the fine pearl presents us with a similar message: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13.45-46; NRSV). What is the one thing for which you would be willing to sacrifice everything? I have previously spoken of Soren Kierkegaard’s work, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing: Preparation for the Office of Confession. Kierkegaard based this work on James 4.8: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (NRSV). This verse may call to mind Matthew 5.8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (NRSV). Oneness in and with Christ is the pearl of great value! But let us never forget – Christ considered us (humanity) the pearl of great value for which he willingly emptied himself of his glory and assumed our human form. Christ willingly and lovingly sacrificed everything for us.
Last, let us consider the kingdom of heaven as like a net thrown into the sea which caught fish of every kind. Let’s face it, many are attracted to the kingdom of heaven, they are “caught up,” but they lack the will to forsake all and fully commit to one thing – they lack purity of heart.
To once again quote McCracken: “Parables precipitate internal action, forcing the hearer or reader to a crisis or collision that requires movement, which in New Testament terms is an either/or: either stumbling or changing-and-becoming, either enacting a lie that we desire or being transformed” (Ibid.) The Sermon on the Mount addressed the routine practices and understanding of the law; it served to reinterpret God’s law – to have us consider not only the external action of living out the law, but also our inner motivations and impulses. In contrast, these parables revealed something entirely new – the kingdom of heaven breaking into the midst of our world; they revealed things hidden from the foundation of the world, things revealed through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In response, may we halt our stumbling; may we be changing, becoming. May we forsake the lie that we desire for our transformation. May we sell all that we might obtain the pearl of great value. May we live as members of the kingdom of heaven and experience joy!