Life Lessons

“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables …” (Matthew 13:1-3).

Most of the gospel readings this month come from a collection of parables, sometimes called the sermon on the water, which form the structural and thematic heart of Matthew.

Parables are not concrete examples to help simple people who might not otherwise understand lofty spiritual matters. Quite the opposite is true. Through parables, Jesus asserts that the raw stuff of the daily life of the poor—debt bondage, subsistence farming, day labor pools, taxes, crop contamination, food preparation—is vital to understanding the reign of God, or as it says in Matthew, “the kingdom of heaven.”

We hear the phrase “kingdom of heaven” seven times in this month’s gospel readings. In Matthew the words are used where identical passages in the other gospels say the “ kingdom of God.” The author of Matthew is not describing a different reality but honoring the Jewish prohibition on uttering or writing the name of God. The kingdom described is the same “this-world” reality of economic justice, community, abundance, and radical inclusion. Matthew’s kingdom of heaven is not pie in the sky when you die.

Laurel A. Dykstra is a scripture and justice educator living in Vancouver, British Columbia. She is author of Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus. www.laureldykstra.com

July 6

Come Out and Play
Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67
Psalm 45:10-17; Romans 7:15-25;
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In a gospel that calls us repeatedly to hear and listen, we begin with a noisy passage full of calling, quarreling, wailing, and flutes. This first reading is the odd one out in a month of kingdom parables.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2008
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