"With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it," Mk. 4:33.
There was a rabbinic teaching method called “charaz.” It means stringing pearls, and the teacher would spin out image after image, wisdom saying after wisdom saying, parable after parable in a seemingly random way. It was designed to tell a larger truth by focusing on small details or to tell about a whole by examining the parts. It was describing a picture by telling a variety of perspectives.
I am sure that the hearers got as frustrated by this style of teaching as we do. “Which is it, Jesus” was asked. Is the kin-dom like a pearl or a net? Is it more like yeast or like a treasure in a field? Do we stumble across it or set out with a checklist to find it? Does it work in secret hidden away from our eyes like yeast in the dough, or does it sprout up like a plant and provide shade and protections like a mustard shrub? Is it something common like a seed or questionable like yeast or valuable like a treasure?
All these questions and more Jesus would answer with a smile and nod of the head and tell us that we are like scribes bringing out of the treasure something old and something new. And with furrowed brows we would throw up our hands and grumble. When we pressed him and shouted out, “Which is it? This or that?” He would say, “yes.” You know he would. With a laugh, he would say, “yes. That’s it exactly!” And he wouldn’t be saying it just to be funny. He’d say it because it was the truth. He’d say it because it was the best answer. Is it a pearl or a net or a seed or a treasure hidden in a field or yeast hidden in three measures of flour? Yes, it is that exactly!!
Talking to Jesus can be exhausting. You think he is out to confuse you. We keep skipping over those verses where it says he said nothing except in parables. I think we skip them because they make it sound as if Jesus was just messing with us, and we don’t like that. But the truth is, he really wants us to see. He really wants us to understand. We just can’t do it by thinking the way we usually think.
We have to learn to look under our noses and off to the horizon at the same time. We have to learn to see the ordinary and the spectacular all together. We have to learn to experience the everyday and the once in a lifetime in the same moment. We need to see deeper and trust more completely. We need to value what the world throws away and throw away what the world thinks most valuable.
In short, the kin-dom asks us to turn upside down, to stretch and reach and get outside of ourselves long enough to really see the wonder of the universe in a tiny seed. But most important—at least it seems to me to be most important—we are supposed to do it with joy. That’s what it means to grow into the new creation. We are to see it in all its multifaceted beauty, in all its diverse wonder. Just when we think we’ve got it nailed down, it slips away and appears in another guise, another face. And we are surprised and blessed and overwhelmed with the amazing grace of God that would bless us so.
Because we are given the chance to be remade too – just like the kin-dom. That’s what Paul is describing in 2 Corinthians in our text this week. We are now the parable; we are the mustard seed that grows into that which gives shade, gives welcome and relief, gives justice and comfort to so many kinds of birds that we can amaze even ourselves.
This confidence that Paul speaks of isn’t confidence in ourselves. It isn’t in the right choices that we might finally make. It isn’t in the growth that we see within us and around us. This confidence isn’t in our own salvation, but in the one who saves us as we are being saved. Paul wants us to live out loud, to let the world know that we are a new creation. That’s what it means to be a living parable of the kin-dom.
He reminds us about standing before the judgment seat in the same passage where he tells us to be confident. That doesn’t seem to fit all that well. Thinking about the former wouldn’t necessarily lead to the latter. Unless, as we’ve pointed out, the confidence isn’t in us but in Christ. Because then the image becomes that we stand before the one who worked in us and through us who will then recognize that presence in all our actions, imperfectly to be sure, but present, nonetheless. That’s the new creation Paul talks about, that indwelling of the presence of Christ. “If anyone is in Christ” Paul writes. He could have said, if Christ is in anyone. It’s about as fuzzy as trying to decide if the kin-dom is like a seed or a tree, a pearl or yeast. About as fuzzy and about as exciting. If anyone means people just like us. And it means people who aren’t like us on the outside. It means anyone who carries a seed’s worth of faith in the Christ who claims them.
The joy is that we can grow. As a new creation, as a tiny seed, we can grow. There is more; there is always more for us to realize, more for us to live into—not as a burden, not as a duty, but as the joy of discovering more Christ. We are making disciples, not have made, not done with that disciple-thing, but we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And we are making them out of ourselves and our neighbors and the world that God loved so much. Step by step, branch by branch, we grow into the new creation.