Twice in the last three weeks, Jesus has concluded his parables with the admonition, “Let anyone who has ears, listen!” Maybe it’s less an admonition than pleading. What you seek, what you ask for, what you say you want is all around you, on every side. Can you see it?
Two weeks ago, the parable of the sower spoke to discipleship, reminding you and me that it is for us to sow the seed – and for God to give the increase. Last week, the parable of the wheat and the weeds showed that each of us has both wheat and weeds so intertwined in our own hearts that it is best to wait for the time when God will judge, so that the one who created you and me will also be the one to sort you and me. This week, we hear several similes about the kingdom of heaven. Is that changing the subject? Not really, and here’s why.
My friend and colleague Anna Madsen is a Lutheran pastor near Minneapolis. She operates a retreat center. Years ago, while they were in Germany for her husband’s business, a car crash killed her husband and left her son, Karl, who was then three years old, with a massive traumatic brain injury.
Karl is now 19. He is sweet and joyous, with an impish sense of humor that he has inherited from his mom and his sister, Else.
For the last two weeks, Karl has been in the hospital to deal with an increase in his seizure activity. They’re checking the shunt in his brain and looking at other causes.
And Pastor Anna, his mom, has been sharing the good and the bad and the ugly about all this in her blog. Here’s what she wrote on Monday of this past week.
Depending on how tomorrow’s alertness and his tolerance of the increase of degrees from recline to incline go, it [remains] possible that we could be home even on Wednesday or Thursday.
And, fortuitously, it is no longer the weekend.
That means that the rec therapy and music therapy people are in the house. They came today to introduce themselves, and to gather ideas.
They are … hooked on Karl and the possibilities, and are eager to come with their sleeves rolled up tomorrow.
Taken all together… today struck me with several pieces. First, there is incredible mutual regard and even camaraderie here amongst the professionals.
There is a deep respect that seems palpable not just between the doctors and the RNs and the nursing assistants, but between them and the music and rec therapists and the housekeepers.
They see that they all represent elements of a singular goal, and that each element is crucial—and therefore worthy of respect and gratitude—in the process of healing.
One of the words that we hear over and over again in the New Testament is salvation. At least, that’s how we translate it. In Biblical Greek, the word is sotería. Rather than being imbued with some sense of scrambling for some necessary level of Jesus-acceptance, it means being healthy, and being healed, and being whole.
Pastor Anna says, “I think a whole-self approach to healing leads to whole people, or, that is, saved people.”
For three weeks in a row, you and I have been hearing Jesus speak in parables to the crowds. And when his disciples ask him for explanations, he gives them.
Today, he tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, tiny at first, that grows and becomes a tree for the birds of the air to nest in. The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, a small amount of which will make the bread rise until all are fed. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, for which someone will give up all that he possesses, or like the pearl of great value. The kingdom of heaven is like a net that draws in all fish, and at the end of the age, the angels will sort out the fish.
Then he said to them: “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
In this mixed bag of comparisons, from mustard seeds to fish, Jesus gives you and me what salvation is, what wholeness is, how we can find ourselves in the kingdom of heaven even before our lives on earth come to a close.
Pastor Anna, in talking about the multitude of saviors living out their vocation at the hospital where her son is receiving treatment, makes it clear in a very real and very human way what salvation is and how you and me and each of us finds completion, finds perfection, finds wholeness – how we find salvation.
She says, One nurse, when the nursing assistant walked out of Karl’s room, looked at me, sighed, and said, “We could so not do what we do without the likes of him.”
And they each of them do what God has given them the gifts and the passion to do: nursing assistant and music therapist, neurosurgeon and housekeeper, pediatrician and R.N.
It is true that we cannot save ourselves. But we can be ambassadors of salvation.
The kingdom of heaven is like the woman or man or great-grandpa or young child who knows what makes their heart sing with the joy of the universe, and who does it, unto others, through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ and for Christ, through and with and in and for one another, with all their heart and with all their mind and with all their soul. Amen.