The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
July 26, 2020
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
There’s something absurd about the human condition. Think about it – we spend our whole existence working to make a livelihood; but no matter how hard we work or how little we work, we all end up in the grave. That’s absurd. Think about this – we can gorge ourselves with a Thanksgiving lunch but we’re hungry again by dinner. You can’t go without eating no matter how much you eat. That’s absurd. It’s absurd that a little virus, can bring death, destruction, illness, and devastation. Think about it – this thing, this virus that we’re fighting against measures just zero point zero zero zero zero zero four seven two of an inch. You can tell I wasn’t a math major, right? Anyway, that is absolutely absurd that something so small has such tremendous, global consequences. If you’re familiar with the ancient myth of Sisyphus, that’s the moral of the story. No matter how many times you push that rock up the hill, you won’t ever actually get it to the top. This is the absurdity of the human condition.
And what Jesus talks about today is just downright absurd, too. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a tiny little mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven is like a woman making fifty pounds of bread. It’s like a man selling everything he owns to buy one field, or one pearl. It’s like a fishermen parsing out good fish and bad – hold up. I would imagine that ancient fishermen would have been happy to catch any fish. Let’s not get choosey here. That’s just absurd.
First of all, absurdity is one rhetorical device that Jesus uses throughout the parables. These are not actual stories of actual people – the parables are hyperbolic illustrations to get a point across. Not unlike the ones we use today. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” “I died of embarrassment.” “That costs an arm and a leg.” Like the rest of us, Jesus is using absurd images to get his point across.
Putting that aside, we’ve now got to wrestle with the most important question of all – what’s the point? What’s the point of these parables? What’s the point of these absurd sayings? And let’s cut a closer to home – what’s the point of church? What’s the point of flipping on YouTube to watch me talk about some guy who lived two thousand years ago? What’s the point of praying? What’s the point of worship? What’s the point of giving money to some organization that believes in something you can’t even see? Isn’t it all just a bit absurd?
Why, yes, it is absurd. And isn’t it great? That’s been the power of Christian message for two thousand years. Jesus Christ died on a cross, and through that death Jesus claims victory over sin and death; and through that victory we are given new life in this world and in the world to come. This is utter madness, complete absurdity – that the One and Only God would die as one of us. But we need to dig one level deeper. And get ready for this. God is absurd. God is absurd. The Lord God of Hosts, the One who is Three, created everything that is seen and unseen. God alone is the One who has life in himself. And yet, God created me and you. The Holy One, the Almighty, gave himself to die upon a cross. I’m not saying that the idea of God is absurd. No, I’m saying that the Triune God who is the one and only God, the very One we adore and worship and proclaim, is ridiculous. Jesus gives such absurd parables because God is absurd. And that is the best news I’ve ever heard. Saint Paul was more direct about it – “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
Now this ridiculously absurd, wildly unreasonable God has one purpose and one purpose only – to love us with a foolish, reckless love. As Saint Paul says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (I Corinthians 1:25).
So of course Jesus is going to use these images for his parables to describe the Kingdom of God. A tiny little mustard seed. Fifty pounds of bread. All one’s possessions for a field, for a pearl. The character in all those parables is, of course, God. God is the one who sells everything God has for you. You are that pearl of great price, that treasured field. God is the one who baking a ludicrous amount of bread for the world. For a moment, just revel in that. What crazy, quirky, strangely bizarre, absurdly good news! God gives away everything, even God’s own life, so that you and I can be freed from the power of sin.
And the only way to respond to such absurdity is in kind. Jesus says to render unto to God the things that are God’s. Usually we take that to mean that we should give our money to the Church. Don’t get me wrong, keep that up. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about there. Render unto God the things that are God’s means that we are to give back this reckless, wild, unbounded, foolish, and absurd love with which God has already loved us. Respond to God’s absurdity with your own.
Carve out so much time in your day for prayer that any reasonable person would consider it a waste of time. Donate so much money to charities that any logical accountant would say it was too much. Love your neighbor – all your neighbors – with such a reckless, wild, unbounded, absurd kind of love that everybody else calls you foolish for doing so. When you say that your kids can’t go to baseball practice on Sunday morning because you’re going to church, people will shake their heads and question your priorities. When you call out that inappropriate behavior at work instead of letting it slide, and by doing so risk your own job, people will think you’re unreasonable. But all you’re doing is rendering to God what God has rendered to you. An extravagant, absurdly generous love that we can barely understand. My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, God is a fool for you. Become a fool for God.