I wasn’t going to blog, because I couldn’t think of anything, but then I glanced at the lections, and then remembered that Chelsey Handler made another short, defensive video about how great her life is:
What interests me, though, is the trope of Wisdom. Handler, claiming to be wise, like so many, has become your least favorite and scolding Wine Aunt. She is the opposite of all the bright, surprising pictures that Jesus draws for us in the gospel this morning. They come in a sort of staccato. In each case, what the eye, on the surface, beholds, is not the thing that is really going on. You raise your champagne bottle to the sky, calling for a celebration, and meanwhile, you miss something essential about the very nature of the cosmos itself. The first one is my favorite because the littlest of children wonder at it, and marvel:
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.
You can put a little seed in the tiny hand and it immediately disappears into the plush of the Sunday School carpet. Indeed, our carpet is sown with the mustard seeds of many generations of children, enthralled by the tinyness of the seed and the immense tree outside the window. What’s so interesting about it, is that God confines himself to one kind of Way, one Truth, and it seems so narrow, so confining, so insignificant, but when you put out your hand and marvel at that very spare seed, you end up getting the whole world, including your own soul. Brilliant and beautiful birds come and rest. Instead of nothing, you end up with everything. But that wasn’t all. He takes up his discourse again, this time sketching out the shape of a woman:
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
In our Sunday school, we have a little card with the woman, stooping over her kneading bowl. She is working the leaven, which, in some strange overturning, is not sin after all, but is the defeat of that lingering ruin. Whereas before, if you allowed even a speck of it into your house or your camp, it corrupted the whole thing. But now, as the woman bends to her task, it is worked into the dough so completely, that once it is in, you can’t see it anymore. It does its hidden work, growing the loaf, enlivening what was once inert and dead. The Kingdom’s bread is inexorable in its capacity to feed, to nourish, to sustain. It is worked all into the whole loaf so that nothing remains beyond its life.
Then Jesus turns to a man who, like Solomon, was out in the world, carrying on with his business and his thoughts. He wasn’t confined to a bowl or a seed. He had been everywhere and seen everything. He had discernment, wisdom even. Unlike Solomon, though, in two cases he is able to see what he most needs. He isn’t beguiled by the Chelsea Handlers of the world, nor the London School of Economics about what constitutes real happiness for women or men:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
This must surely be the strangest sort of treasure. How would the man know that it is valuable? That it is worth letting go of all that he had in order to possess it? What sort of joy is his, when he knows it is secure? And, to make the point yet more sure, now Jesus names what sort of beautiful treasure one might find, out there in the marketplace of ideas and junk, everyone wandering up and down the internet seeking something desirable, something to ameliorate the ache of loneliness and despair:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
This is the Pearl of Great Price. It comes at the cost of yourself, but when you have it, you have everything. It is the reason so many people wander into church sometimes, but then don’t stick around very long. It is the reason they choose to shut themselves into narrow rooms, to avoid the truth of themselves. It takes gallons of alcohol and drugs to dull the ache of desire for this Pearl. You have to work very hard, in the end, to shut your eyes against its beauty and its light. Which brings us to Jesus’ final story. What happens if you follow the way of unwisdom, of sin and death? The warning is clear, unmistakable, if anyone will listen:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
I know Jesus is speaking of the End, but every time Chelsea Handler explains how happy she is, I feel like I can hear her teeth grinding. What does she do, there, in her hyperbaric chamber? Does she think of anything? Does she sleep? Does she pray? It doesn’t seem very hard, to me anyway, to observe her unhappiness. She doth protest too much. Her unhappiness betrays her foolishness.
These very short stories of Jesus illustrate the deeper wisdom at the back of the created order. The one seeking, looking, searching will always find. And Jesus himself came to look, to stoop over his creation, to draw the desperate seeker to himself. You don’t have to work very hard to stumble over the Treasure. You don’t have to stretch very far, your hand only partially open, to grasp the Pearl. Your mouth can be full of grief as you bite down and taste the bread. But imagine, as you swallow, Jesus does the work to make himself your All in All.
So anyway, I have to go to church now. Hope to see you there!
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