Seeds for Thought9th Sunday after Pentecost
Today’s scripture readings are lectionary passages for this week. I often wonder how these scriptures are connected and what they say to us on any given Sunday. I have told the Genesis story, in which again and again, Jacob tries to manipulate his life and his schedule and control his destiny. This is the opposite of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven that is among us and within us, here and now. I resonate with Jacob many times when I get bogged down and when what I’m doing seems inconsequential in relation to what I think I should be doing. I want to orchestrate timelines and to do lists. I struggle with knowing that what I do matters and what doesn’t and maybe that is not mine to decide.
Perhaps the scriptures might teach us that some things need to be left alone, that often we need to get out of the way and that God regularly disrupts our perceived orderly sense of things.
Matthew has 4 short parables Jesus told that begin the kingdom of heaven is like… Jesus made surprising comparisons between holy things and ordinary things. The kingdom of heaven is like the smallest of mustard seeds that grows into a tree, so that the birds come and make nests in its branches. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast a woman mixed with flour until it was leavened to make bread. The kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field when a man sells all he has to buy the field and, finally, like a merchant who finds the one pearl of great value.
The mustard seed and the yeast seem like ordinary things we hardly pay attention to. But when we sow the seed or mix the yeast with flour the results matter, a tree big enough for birds to make their homes and bread enough to feed a family. The seed and the yeast have potential to be transformed when the seed is planted and the yeast is placed into the dough. Even small actions or hidden actions, have the potential to produce great things.
There is the action of our doing, the planting, and putting yeast in the dough, our initial investment that stops with that action. We leave the seed to do its work and the yeast to make the bread rise. This is where we often get confused and think we should be doing something beyond that that results in over-thinking and over functioning. We think we have control over the outcome if we initiate further steps.
We see this lesson in the Genesis story. Jacob tried over and over to manipulate people and circumstances to get what he wanted in life. Jacob, whose name means manipulator, had tricked his brother out of his birthright and his father out of the family inheritance. Jacob made his way to his Uncle Laban’s, where he met Rachel and immediately fell in love. Jacob began trying to arrange his marriage to Rachel. Laban agreed that if Jacob worked for 7 years he could marry Rachel. He commits himself to his work for 7 years and when the wedding comes he discovers he hasn’t married Rachel but her older sister Leah, the eldest.
When Jacob confronts Laban, Laban replies, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob was tricked, the same way he had manipulated others his entire life.
What lessons can we learn from Jacob and the mustard seed and the yeast? After our initial action some things just need to be left alone. Professor Amy Jill Levine describes the lesson: Keep fiddling with the dough and it will not rise; keep exposing the seed to air and it will not germinate. Not everything or everyone needs our constant attention. We are part of a larger process. Why is it so hard to learn that we often just need to get out of the way? We believe we are responsible for the outcome and we are not. We are the facilitator for beginning something that is bigger than ourselves. The one that sowed the seed is much less important than the result which is not ours to claim.
How do we decide what matters and what doesn’t and is that ours to decide? These parables are a symbol of how God is forever invading our sense of order. Barbara Brown Taylor writes that God decided to hide the kingdom of heaven, not in extraordinary places that treasure hunters would be sure to check but in the last place that any of us would be sure to look, in the ordinary circumstances of our everyday lives.
The kingdom of heaven is here…in our own backyard. Where might we be over functioning when instead, things might just need to be left alone? Where do we need to get out of the way and confess that indeed, the outcome is up to God alone? How can we develop new awareness of how God might be disrupting our orderly sense of things, and offer welcome for God’s action and activity?