(Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52)
When NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash last January, chances are that most people heard about it when a “breaking news” ticker scrolled across the bottom of their laptops or TV screens.
Some programming might have been interrupted with a “breaking news” bulletin — the words “Breaking News” always in red.
When we see these words, we know that something amazing, terrible, interesting, incredible, troubling or heart-breaking has occurred. We also know that we’re about to learn more.
Breaking news. These two words are in themselves interesting. What is the grammatical role of the word “breaking”?
It is an adjective that modifies the word “news,” so the ticker across your screen could also read: “News that is breaking!”
Perhaps you could not care less.
But now, the question looms: Just what is the news breaking?
Think back to the events of the morning of September 11, 2001. Where were you at the time? What were you doing when the news broke about the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers in lower Manhattan and the one that crashed into the Pentagon?
This news, like all “breaking news,” broke into our daily routine. But, more than that, it broke into our consciousness. It broke into history. It ripped through our communities, shredding conventional ideas, traditional assumptions and long-held beliefs. It was news that altered, modified, shattered and forever changed – something. The John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy assassinations in the 1960s. The moon landing in 1969. The Challenger explosion. Reality, life and human experience would never be the same. These events were indeed “breaking news,” or news that broke in upon our consciousness and awareness. Our lives as we knew them changed on those days; nothing was ever the same. Something indeed had been broken.
This is the meaning conveyed by our gospel reading for today, although certainly not in the negative sense of 9/11 or COVID-19. Rather, the news that Jesus breaks is astonishing and incredibly good news. In fact, this is the way the announcement is framed in the gospels. Breaking news: Good news! The kingdom of God is upon us! The kingdom of God is within you! Or, as John the Baptist would thunder, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (3:2).
Jesus Himself, after His baptism and temptation in the wilderness, began His ministry by announcing the same exciting, incredible and utterly novel news: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15, emphasis added).
It’s fair to say that most people — after hearing breaking news — want details. Many have an insatiable thirst for more details, more information, more background or more understanding. If we’re like this, we will stay tuned to our TV, or consult online sites regularly. We want to know more.
As I was writing this message, the breaking news of the world was centered on one issue (Unless you want to count the “breaking news” that Nicki Minaj is ‘preggers’). The important stuff is:
Breaking News: US COVID-19 deaths rise past 140,000
CNN Breaking News: As COVID cases continue to soar, many states face renewing stay-at-home orders
BBC Breaking News: Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial shows promise
This is what Jesus does in our text. He provides context. He tries to give the disciples understanding and insight. The kingdom of God has broken into history. It shatters everything! What does this incredible, amazing and daring action mean?
Jesus explains with parables and metaphors.
Okay, he says, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
Or, try this: It’s like yeast.
Or, here’s another way of looking at it: It like treasure in a field.
It’s also like an expensive pearl.
Finally, it’s like a fishing net.
Now, let’s look at each of these item by item, and then draw some conclusions.
The mustard seed. This seed is so small that, in the sowing of it, it’s almost invisible. Yet from this virtually invisible seed, a huge shrub develops, large enough for birds (no doubt the little sparrows of which Jesus spoke on other occasions) to flit about, nest and rest.
This is an image of the kingdom of God. Its power is so great that no matter how small the work, no matter how small the seed that is sown (remember the parable of the sower from two weeks ago), it results in something great and amazing. Some commentators believe that the reference to the birds speaks to the nature of the kingdom as a hospitable place where all can find shelter and rest.
The kingdom of God, in other words, is not a thorny shrub where little birds are pierced, uncomfortable, judged and unwelcome.
The metaphor also reminds us that we cannot do everything. All we can do is plant seeds. Some “seeds” might be virtually invisible to the eyes of others — insignificant, meaningless, unimportant. But, although we may never see the shrub, these seeds grow and develop into a work that is important and meaningful.
Yeast. The meaning of this metaphor is similar to the previous one. That which is small, virtually invisible, yields an astounding product much larger than itself. In this case, the emphasis is not on external material growth, but something that is happening inwardly. The leaven works within the dough.
Some medieval commentators try to spiritualize the parable and see in the woman kneading the bread as a picture of the church, and the “three measures of flour” as the body, soul and spirit of a person. Such spiritualizing is interesting but unnecessary. It is more to the point to understand that Jesus is driving home another principle about the kingdom of God. It unerringly penetrates, permeates and pervades the neighborhood, culture and world into which it has been introduced.
Dough without yeast is heavy, thick, inert and tasteless. Dough into which leaven has been introduced is completely different. The kingdom of God is a changing agent; it causes expansion, development, movement, a metamorphosis.
So what is our image of the kingdom of God? Like a leavened loaf of bread, or an unleavened piece of flatbread?
The treasure in a field and an expensive pearl. It was not uncommon in the first century A.D. for someone who had something quite valuable to bury the precious item in his backyard or field. The object was thereby protected from marauders and thieves.
Remember the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30)? A wealthy man goes on a journey, but gives some money to three of his servants and asks them to invest it wisely so that there is a handsome ROI (return on investment) when he returns.
Time goes by. The master returns, and two of his servants are pleased to announce that they made a significant profit for their employer during his absence. The third servant, however, is able only to return safely the original cash. No one thinks it strange when Jesus says the servant protected his master’s money by burying it in the ground.
Jesus’ parable in our text supposes that someone has found a treasure in a field accidentally. What is he going to do? He buys the field so he can legally claim the treasure in the field.
Breaking news! You are that treasure in the field. Jesus redeemed the world through His death so that He might claim you.
The purchase of a priceless pearl is a different matter. In this case, the pearl is not discovered accidentally. The pearl is discovered by someone who is shopping for precious gems, or something similar. He finds this incredible pearl, and knowing its value, sells off everything he owns to purchase it.
Breaking news! The kingdom of God is more precious than anything in this world. Give up everything to possess the kingdom!
This, in fact, is Jesus’ message time and again. Remember the story of the rich young ruler who walks away from the kingdom because he cannot part with his riches, or recall that when the followers of Jesus joined Him, they left everything behind. Jesus regularly spoke of self-denial and picking up one’s cross.
A fishing net. Most exciting of all perhaps (for a people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire), is the message that someday the kingdom of God will triumph over evil.
This last parable that provides further details about the “breaking news” of the kingdom of God is the announcement that the kingdom of God is not just a present, spiritual reality, but also an inevitable future physical reality. This eschatological dimension of the kingdom reminds us that the tares will someday be separated from the wheat (13:24-30 – as we saw last week); someday the “bad” fish will be separated from the good (v. 38). The evil will be separated from the righteous.
This is indeed good news for these people as it is for us today.
For many people today, the times in which we live are dangerous, confusing and crushing times. We are beset by so many ways of thinking. Evil and unrighteousness are all around us. We are often beleaguered and “hunkering in the bunker” of despair and uncertainty.
This message reminds us to step out into the light of the certain victory and triumph of righteousness. Breaking news! We can leave all of this in the hands of God and go back to being the
Church, being a mustard seed, being the yeast in the loaf.
Breaking news! Jesus Says That We Don’t Have to Bury Our Treasure!
So what does all of this mean to us? Look at verses 51 and 52: Jesus asks, “Have you understood all this?”
They answered, “Yes.”
Then, Jesus says to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Bring out the best china and silverware! Put your treasure on display! And then give them away! Break into the world’s collective consciousness. We do not, and should not, hide our light under a bushel basket (see 5:14-15).
We are agents of the new kingdom! We are heralds and messengers breaking the best possible news upon a world eager and longing to hear some good news!