Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Place for All?

There has been a lot of talk about exclusion in the media this week. Specifically, about whether people who are transgender are welcome in the military. Opinions, from both those for and against, have flown, fast and furiously, over the internet.

I can find no text in the scriptures where transgender is mentioned. However, interestingly, today’s readings were about the realm of heaven and belonging. I read these parables as a place, or perhaps a state, where no one is excluded. A state where all can find rest and peace and comfort. A place where all are welcome.

The realm of heaven is addressed in five parables in the lectionary passage for today (Matthew 13:31-52).

The first is the parable of the mustard seed. The story tells us the tiny seed produces a tree where the birds can nest and find protection. When I lived in the UK I sometimes went camping in France. One of the delights of the journey was seeing the mustard fields. They stretch, bright yellow, for what seemed like miles to the horizon. From them comes the mustard that one likes to eat as a garnish.

 I suspect the mind often goes to that sort of mustard when hearing the words of this parable. Yet, I don’t think that was what was in the author’s mind when the gospel was penned.

I believe the story is talking about it the mustard tree that is native to Israel and several other countries in the Middle East and Africa. It thrives in hot, dry conditions. Salvadora Persica is a shrub which grows up to thirty feet tall. It is known as the mustard tree or toothbrush tree. It has many uses. It fibrous branches are used for teeth cleaning. The leaves are eaten as a salad. They are used for healing. Coughs, asthma and rheumatism are a few of the many diseases the leaves are said to help cure. The small berries are also eaten, both fresh and dried.

This mustard tree is depicted in the parable as an image of the realm of heaven. It is a place of refuge, a place of healing and a place of nourishment.

The next parable which is given to illustrate the realm of heaven is the story of a woman who has some yeast which she mixes with three measures of flour until all is leavened. Yeast is fungi which has many uses, most popularly used in bread making and the production of alcohol (wine, beer). The image this parable gives me is one of growth and expansion. It also involves effort and determination. Yeast and flour need to be kneaded to cause the expansion.

The next two parables are similar, one talks of a treasure hidden in a field, the other of a pearl of great price. In each case the person desiring them was willing to sell all their possession to obtain the treasure. I think each person must think about what is, metaphorically, the treasure which is worth selling all for. For me, this week, it is inclusivity and non-judgmentalism. That is worth it. That is something to be desired, something to work towards.

Finally, in the text, the realm of heaven is likened to a net thrown into the sea. Every kind of fish is caught.I love this picture of inclusivity. All together in one net. However, worth noting, again effort is required. The net needs to be thrown out and then hauled in.

My re-reading of these five parables gives me an image of the realm of heaven which I find hopeful. It is one which needs effort and determination to bring into being. The picture I have is that the realm of heaven is welcoming, inclusive, non-judgmental, protecting, nourishing, healing and expansive.

(Turtle Photo: Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca NY, July 2017)