The kingdom of heaven is like the coronavirus.
Now, you before you call the bishop to report me, please consider: Friday is his last day.
You'll either have to hurry or wait till next week and ask the incoming interim bishop to
have me removed instead.
It's a terrible, insensitive thing for the pastor to say.
And I don't say it to deny or minimize or make light of the suffering the virus is causing.
I am not suggesting that COVID-19 is good, or that it's God's will, even though I do believe God can and will bring good things from this pandemic; otherwise, the cross is a lie.
I am only trying to translate the shocking, mind-bending good news on the lips of Jesus.
The kingdom of heaven is like crabgrass that someone planted in their front lawn, which in some neighborhoods and home owner associations is more offensive than just infecting people.
The kingdom of heaven is like mustard seed, he says, an unwanted weed that becomes a tree.
Then Jesus triples down on the madness with a real doozy.
The kingdom of heaven is like poison which a predator slips into a cocktail until one sip will do you in.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which is unclean, that a woman, who is unclean, took and hid, which is automatically suspicious, until the whole loaf was ruined.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a tax shelter and a garbage truck that collects everything on the curb, to be sorted later.
Have you understood all this?
Yes, say the disciples, which will hopefully make him stop talking.
Robert Capon marvels at the variety and outrageousness of Jesus' parables:
some of the parables are little more than one-liners, brief comparisons stating that the kingdom of God is things no one ever dreamed of comparing it to: yeast, mustard seed, buried treasure secured by craftiness, fabulous jewelry purchased by mortgaging everything.
On many occasions, of course, Jesus lengthened and developed the parable form into the short but marvelously complete stories to which we normally give the name.
Yet for all their charm and simplicity, his story-parables are not one bit less baffling.
Once again, they set forth comparisons that tend to make mincemeat of people's religious expectations.
Bad people are rewarded (the Publican, the Prodigal, the Unjust Steward); good people are scolded (the Pharisee, the Elder Brother, the Diligent Workers); God's response to prayer is likened to a man getting rid of a nuisance (the Friend at Midnight); and in general, everybody's idea of who ought to be first or last is liberally doused with cold water (the Wedding Feast, the Great Judgment, Lazarus and Dives, the Narrow Door).
It's a pattern, and when the disciples confront Jesus about it, his response is equally confounding:
The reason I speak to them in parables is that 'seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not understand.'
Have you understood all this?
If so, please contact the church office this week and explain it to me.
Of course, explaining may be precisely our problem.
We set ourselves up for disappointment, and close ourselves off to the kingdom, whenever we expect the parables to make sense.
We want them to be tidy little packages we can tie up with a pretty bow, bite size lessons about God's orderly world, reassuring little illustrations to make things simple for the
children, by which I mean adults, tasty little chewable vitamins for the soul.
But Jesus keeps slipping us rufis instead.
Parables are tiny capsules of TNT that detonate in the heart.
They are designed to explode inside us and blast our assumptions to bits.
Parables are specially crafted to offend us, confuse us, stagger us, enrage us...and therefore open and move us.
They blow up every box we think we have God in so that we begin to see that we are living in God's box which is much larger and more bizarre and beautiful and magical and mundane and expansive and mysterious than we had ever imagined.
Before we can see that, Jesus knows, our eyes and minds have to be blasted open.
So Jesus does not give us helpful nuggets of information; he zaps us with imagination
shock therapy toawaken us to a completely different reality than anything we think we know, to make us change our ways of thinking and behaving fundamentally and entirely...which is to say, to repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
You see, the kingdom of heaven is like the coronavirus.
It is tiny yet powerful.
It is nearly invisible, so some people deny it exists.
It is wildly contagious and can be spread by people who show no symptoms of having it.
It does not discriminate; it can infect anyone at any time.
It is hard to predict how it will manifest; it seems to affect different people in different
ways, though beware of common symptoms like inclusiveness and generosity and joy.
It has the power to change millions of lives and cripple the economy, so the authorities want
desperately to contain and eliminate it before it leavens the whole loaf.
They declared victory over it on Friday but there was another surprise outbreak on Sunday.
Many people fear contracting it, while a few weirdos seem intent on spreading it.
Your best defense is to keep your distance from other people, cover your ears and heart, and
keep washing your hands of personal responsibility per Governor Pilate's recommendations.
No one is sure what the long term effects of this thing will be, but the experts are worried.
Life as we know it will not be the same if this thing continues to spread.