I spent far too much time today looking mindlessly at online articles that mainly consisted of the following content: “Five ways to better your…” They seemed…well, they seemed to all make plenty of sense. Most of us want to get better at anything and everything from spirituality to sex, so why wouldn’t we read endless articles promising self-improvement in five to ten easy steps?
And then I sat down for a few minutes and read two sentences from Jesus. And I learned something I thought I knew at the beginning of the day: Jesus was uninterested in his own marketability. He was out to change the world, not to make sense out of it for us.
The thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is all about the coalescence of heaven and earth. Jesus is teaching his disciples about what the kingdom of heaven looks like down here on earth. In his teaching, there is an unusual concoction of accessibility and mystery.
The kingdom of heaven looks like a farmer who scattered his seeds seemingly at random. The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who didn’t like to prune his garden throughout the year, preferring instead to sort out everything after the harvest. The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny seed or a pinch of yeast, at one moment invisible and the next, producing a dramatic growth and expanse. The kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure, a valuable pearl, and some random fish. Now that Jesus has given us this mish-mash of illustrations, he turns to his disciples and asks them a simple question.
Jesus: “Got it?”
Now, I have to wonder exactly what it was that they “got” from Jesus’ teaching. After all, it would be these same disciples who would, in the coming days, continue to find themselves in over their heads in this whole business. It would seem that, with any amount of clarity, Jesus’ words were bound to fall on the tone-deaf ears of the bumbling fools he had to work with. Over and over again, Jesus’ disciples show as much potential to follow simple instructions as these two guys:
You would think then, that Jesus would speak down to their (our) level. And at first glance, that is exactly what he does. Jesus’ teachings on the kingdom are a collection of stories that anybody can understand, at least to a point. But as a collection of simple stories, they force us to do something we are not used to doing. They make us think.
And this is how Jesus blesses his disciples at the end of his teaching. He compares them to house owners who consistently bring out a variety of treasures for display and use. Some of these treasures are old; some are new. That is the blessing he offers. There will not be much glory for his followers, but there will be a lot of wisdom. There will not be much pay but their lives will be rich nonetheless with experience. The nature of their lives will be as uncertain as the meaning of the stories Jesus told them.
I love that Jesus offers us no shortcut. There is no set process in front of us to make us better people or better Christians. But while his description of the kingdom of heaven can be utterly confusing, notice the hope that he has for his hopeless followers. His blessing comes well before his disciples actually “get it.”
And the same goes for us.