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The Transfiguration

Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary

Genesis 29:15-28; Psalm 128; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52

Have you understood this…? Depending upon who among the experts you ask, there are anywhere from thirty-seven to sixty-five parables of our Lord recounted in the Gospels. It all depends upon what you mean by parable of course; how you define it, in other words. In some instances, a parable is a veritable short story, such as those of the Prodigal Son and Good Samaritan in the Gospel of Luke; in other cases, the parable is little more than an extended simile or metaphor, as we shall see this morning. The form is an ancient one in any case, common to Hebrew and other ancient literatures; although we nowadays tend to think of parables mostly as the stories told by Jesus in the three so-called Synoptic Gospels, Matthew Mark, and Luke. Curiously, the Gospel of John does not contain any parables at all. The Evangelist Matthew clumps so many of our Lord’s parables together in Chapter Thirteen of his Gospel that it is sometimes referred to as the Parabolic Discourse or the Discourse of Parables; and it is from this Discourse that our Gospel account this morning is again taken, as it was the last two Sundays as well. So, once again visualise Jesus sitting in a boat just a few feet offshore and speaking to the crowds gathered on shore, eager to hear him and his message. It is from this watery pulpit that Jesus tells seven short parables in total. We hear four of them this morning. In the Greek language in which the Gospels were originally written, the word parable simply means comparison; putting one image up against another in order to make a point or association; in other words, using a common or easily understood image in order to shed light on an image or concept which is more difficult to grasp. And that is exactly what we find Jesus doing here. Our Lord introduces each such illustrative image with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like…” And then he tells us what it is like: like a tiny mustard seed which grows into a large tree; like the essentially invisible yeast or leaven which nevertheless causes bread to rise; like a hidden treasure worth more than the field in which it is found; like a found precious pearl more valuable than all one possesses; and like a net which in a sense both gathers and separates. Disparate images, to be sure, but each with its own dimension and breadth. The Mustard Seed and Yeast suggest the greater than exponential growth of the Kingdom of Heaven within us; the Treasure and Pearl, the infinite worth or value of the Kingdom; and the Net, perhaps the most difficult of the images, the intertwining or crisscrossing of Good and Bad in life which we know only too well. Not any one of these images of course encompasses or defines “the Kingdom of Heaven” of which our Lord speaks; but each illustration gives us an insight or at least a glimpse into our Lord’s meaning, into the Kingdom of Heaven at work among and within us. Now, according to distinguished Hungarian-born British theologian, Géza Vermes, there are many images of our Lord himself which emerge from the New Testament. Vermes calls the Jesus of Matthew’s parables for instance the Kingdom-of-Heaven Jesus; and it is already easy to see why. In the short twelve verses of this morning’s account alone, the term Kingdom of Heaven appears seven times. Yet our Lord never tells his listeners at the seashore, nor us, exactly what the Kingdom of Heaven is in, say, mathematical or scientific terms; he gives it no precise location on the map, no dimensions in square kilometres or miles. He does not suggest that any of us is destined to go there either, as if it was someplace else. Rather, he tells his listeners and us instead what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. He tells parables. The Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, of Matthew, as Vermes goes on to explain, is gripped, obsessed almost, by the idea of this Kingdom of Heaven. It is fair to say that his ministry begins and ends with its proclamation; and the Kingdom remains the focus of many, if not most, of Jesus’ stories and parables in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. The kingdom is by turns seemingly as small and worthless as a mustard seed, yet as valuable as a treasure or fine pearl; as invisible as yeast in dough or treasure hidden in a field. And at some level we are all caught up in the Lord’s net; as they say, the good, the bad, and the ugly alike. Each of these simple elements becomes in Jesus’ telling more than meets the eye. While the language of parable can be disconcerting for some, it is an essential part of Jesus’ method and teaching. He turns to simile and metaphor, in other words parables, because no other language or speech can begin to hold or describe the Kingdom of Heaven and its meaning. Yet from this elusive nothingness, this wisp of simile, comes all the richness and glory of knowing God and possessing his love. Only the images conjured by parable and story can begin to do the Kingdom justice and bring its perfection and value to light; and in so doing, allow each of us to enter ourselves into that Kingdom. “Have you understood this?” asks Jesus of his disciples at the end of today’s passage. And a simple and hasty yes is their unhesitating response. Speaking for myself, I do not think I could have joined so readily and spontaneously in their affirmation. For, in spite of the disciples’ quick and confident answer, I suspect the more honest answer to our Lord’s question, “Have you understood this?” is, no, probably not. You and I have not entirely understood the Kingdom of Heaven and its meaning and importance; and in this life probably never will entirely Yet we are in many ways like our Lord’s Mustard Seed; like the Yeast; like the Treasure or Pearl; like the very Kingdom of God in our potential to grow and love and in our infinite value to our infinite God in our ability to bring about God’s plan for salvation and peace in our world today of Good and Evil. And to that Kingdom of Heaven at work among us we with the Disciples can indeed say yes. Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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