‘Have you understood all this?’

‘Have you understood all this?’

Reflections on Matthew 12: 31 – 52

‘have you understood all this?’

It seems to me that it is quite a bold reply that the disciples give to this question that Jesus asks, right at the end of the text in Matthew, which some of us will have had read to us last Sunday.

Each one of these parables might be studied independently, poured over and wrestled with: what can they mean?

And yet Jesus at the end of throwing these short parables, seemingly randomly about, asks that question dreaded of students the world over...

‘have you understood all this?’

and they answer



the parable effect

With this passage, Jesus does not give them a chance to think. He hits the disciples one after the other with each parable. The Kingdom of Heaven is like...the Kingdom of Heaven is like....the Kingdom of Heaven is like....

And these parables are revealing new and radical stuff, things that are challenging and life changing.

The Kingdom of God is like a small seed that grows way beyond its expected capacity, and it houses birds, birds eat seeds, particularly birds of the air, wild birds, we do not like them. But the Kingdom of God is a place where the wild things are welcomed...and they find safety and rest. Those who are used to tending and looking after their own fields might not like that story very much.

Or perhaps the Kingdom is like someone who puts yeast in flour....and it infects the lot. Not just someone....a woman! A woman is like God who puts yeast in the flour and lets it work its way through and eventually all the flour is ‘corrupted’ by this Kingdom that is coming: because ‘yeast’ was a metaphor for impurities.

In a week where we have seen the atrocity of the massacre in Norway, this parable says much to us. God has much to say to the world in the face of evil. Anders Behring Breivik believed in purity, this much we know about the action that he took last week. He did not want his country ‘corrupted’, as he saw it. And this belief in keeping things ‘pure’, when the understanding of ‘pure’ is narrow and exclusive can lead us down a very dangerous path. A path where evil and tragic actions can be seen as necessary for the sake of preserving purity.

In the face of this evil, the people of God find that we have a Jesus who speaks of a Kingdom of God that gets everywhere. A Kingdom that is not worried about keeping itself pure and which is, in fact, itself something that has the power of changing everything it comes into contact with. A changer of worlds...or a corrupter of worlds? It rather depends on your perspective.

This is challenging stuff.

‘Have you understood all this?’

revealers of mysteries

To understand something does not necessarily mean knowing the answer to something. Jesus does not want to hide the meaning of the parables, but it seems that what Jesus is trying to reveal can only be revealed through the vehicle of the parable.

The parable is as much part of the message as the message itself.

In other words, they reveal truths that cannot be explained, they need to be ‘seen’, understood, you need to feel them in your gut. The Kingdom of God is not the right answer to a particularly troublesome sum, the Kingdom of God is more like one of those magic eye pictures.

To the untrained eye, these pictures look like a mass of colour blobs, undefined, a mess, they make no sense and in no way could be described as a work of art. But, if you relax your eyes, if you sit in front of the picture, if you take time, if you immerse yourself enough in the coloured blobs in front of you. Eventually, things seem to come into focus and there in front of you is a 3D horse, or flower, or whatever.

The parables are an open invitation to everyone to ‘see’ the Kingdom of God. It is not a secret, but it may take patience, it may take a real desire to seek the Kingdom in order to be able to find it.

the last parable

And so we come back to Jesus’ question.

‘Have you understood all this?’

‘Yes’ say the disciples.

And then Jesus tells them one last parable.

Those who are trained as scribes for the Kingdom of Heaven are like those who own treasures and who value both the old and the new treasures within their trove.

It is a bit of a warning for those who claim to ‘understand all this’. It can be very easy when you find yourselves with a new understanding, to dismiss the place you have come from. But the bible is quite clear that there is great value in what it calls the ‘ancient paths’. The ways that were trod before we, any of us, were a twinkle in the eye. It is a great mistake to think that we were the first to follow God.

But it is also a warning that this does not mean that those ancient paths should be allowed to become set in stone, merely a way of controlling the present paths. Because if a path is continually walked on, it remains fresh, able to bend with the new geography that it comes upon: an ancient path does not remain the same.

It is a living pathway.

The Old becomes the new and the new, turns out to be a re-interpretation of the Old.

the kingdom of God is like...

What is the kingdom of God like?

The Kingdom of God is like a place where the wild things are welcome, where the impure turn out to be a key ingredient, where the cost is high and yet the poor are welcome.

The Kingdom of God is like a path, old and worn, yet trod with all kinds of shoes, old and worn, but not worn out, not worn down – but worn in. True and sure.

The Kingdom of God is like a path, pointing the way to a future place, changed and shaped by the new footprints of those that walk that way. Ever changing, ever the same.

May we have eyes to see and ears to hear the things that are of the Kingdom of God. May we learn the art of watching with patience to see those things of the Kingdom that may not be immediately obvious. And May we walk the ancient paths with eyes that are open to see the new things of God.

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