Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Kingdom for the Birds II

In an earlier post, I wrote about Jesus' parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32). The kingdom, Jesus said, was like a tiny mustard seed, hidden in the ground, that would grow into the largest garden plant. Jesus described the birds nesting in its branches to connect his parable with a similar parable about a kingdom from Ezekiel 17.

Matthew 13 has seven parables. Four of the them teach that the kingdom of God is hidden yet valuable; three explain why only some respond positively to the message of the kingdom; all of them invite us to seek the kingdom.

Why did Jesus teach this set of parables? Just before, the Pharisees make a formal decision about Jesus: "This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul, the ruler of demons" (Matthew 12:24). In the remainder of Matthew 12, Jesus denounces their claim and the hearts that would produce such twisted logic. In Matthew 13, Jesus' parables explain why the Pharisees and others rejected the kingdom (bad soil, weeds, trash fish) and why Jesus' kingdom didn't look like much yet (mustard seed, yeast, pearl, treasure).

There is comfort and challenge yet in these parables. Comfort, because the kingdom still looks small and weak today, and many reject it. We kingdom citizens and kingdom soldiers know our weakness (when we are honest) and we mourn at the failures around us and in us. Challenge, because the parables call us to recognize the value of the kingdom and seek it with all our hearts.

The picture: Parable of the Sower, from Das Plenarium oder Ewangely Buoch, 1516. Courtesy of the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Candler School of Theology, Emory University.


  1. Dr. Manning, what do you think some of the weaknesses of the church as a whole today are?


  2. Good question. From a church history perspective, the church has always been weak, and yet it has grown and accomplished great things.

    We probably could talk about lots of areas where the modern western church is weak today. Here's one: Christians have shifted too much to a focus on what we do, and not on what we think or believe. It is amazing how little most Christians know about the Bible and central Christian beliefs. The focus on how to live a good life, divorced from contemplation of central Christian truths, makes the church sometimes sound like Oprah or Dr. Phil. The church needs a better balance of emphasis between belief and practice - and we rarely seem to get that balance right.


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