Mystery House

My house isn’t square–or even rectangular to be more precise. Looking over a survey of the 110-year-old barn, I see that it is three inches longer on its north wall than on the south. You could take my word for it, but you don’t have to. Anyone with the proper tools and training could measure it and reach the same result. Some information is accessible to anybody.

On the other hand, some information is not so free ranging. If I tell you that I dreamed of being a llama last night, you have no way of verifying the truth of that claim. You’d just have to believe or disbelieve. Other things some people know and, barring loose lips, other people don’t know, because sometimes secrets can be kept.

Jesus spent a great deal of time discussing the kingdom of God, before and after telling us in Matthew 6:33 to seek that kingdom, because it is not a topic that is incredibly clear and obvious to everyone. In fact, the first thing we should note about the kingdom of God is that it is not freely accessible, easily verified information. We learn this in Matthew 13:10-13

Then the disciples came up and asked him, “Why are you speaking to them in parables?”
He answered, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. That is why I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.

So we learn from this exchange that the knowledge of the kingdom is something that is given rather than studied and learned. Some people receive this knowledge and some people don’t. That would allow this knowledge to fit the category of a mystery or a secret.

So what does that mean for our understanding of Matthew 6:33? Jesus tells his hearers to “seek first the kingdom,” but then he says later that the kingdom (or at least knowledge of it) is not something you can seek. How do we reconcile this?

As we’re going to see as we look at the other parables that shed light on it, the kingdom is not something that everybody understands. Obviously, if somebody doesn’t comprehend the existence of the kingdom, they’re not going to pursue it. The direction in Matthew 6:33, then, must be aimed at those who do understand, those to whom the secrets have been given. For everyone else, it is nonsense.

But what about those of us who have been granted these secrets. What excuse do we have if we don’t then seek the kingdom?

Anyone can measure my house, but not everyone sees the charm of living in a barn. Having that vision though, what a shame it would be if we didn’t make the most of the place. How much more shame would there be if we did not work with our knowledge of the kingdom?

A Fisherman’s Kind of Trust

I know that I’m supposed to trust God and all, but sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I find myself resisting that trust and depending on my own juice. Peter was bad about that sort of thing, which makes the story at the end of Matthew 17 so intriguing. After a discussion of paying taxes, Jesus sends Peter out to catch a fish, find a coin, and thereby pay the tax for the two of them:

“But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for me and you.” –Matthew 17:27

That’s the last verse in the chapter. Notice that the Bible does not say that Peter obeyed Jesus and grabbed his fishing pole. It doesn’t say that he stopped by the bait store, and it certainly does not say that he caught a fish and found a coin in its mouth. I’ve heard this story reported numerous times as if that’s precisely how the Bible indicates it went down, but in reality, this account concludes with Jesus’ instruction.

Did Peter go fishing? Did he catch anything? Was there a coin in the fish’s mouth? We can assume that if this thing did not work out to be a miracle then it wouldn’t have found its way into the pages of scripture. What would be the point?

It’s odd that Jesus sent Peter out to fish with hook and line. Nowhere else in the Bible, despite all the fishing that goes on, is there a reference to fishing with a hook. These people fished with nets. Peter, a professional, would have been excused for saying, “Lord, I think I’ll have better luck fishing my way.” Presumably he didn’t say that. Presumably he took a hook and caught a fish and drew a coin from its mouth.

Fishing is almost always a work of faith. We throw a lure into the water once, twice, a dozen times, and we hope that some creature, unseen in the murky waters, will respond and strike. Sometimes that faith is rewarded and sometimes it is not.

God provides for us when we walk in faith and obedience. He isn’t impressed when we lean on our own strength, our own understanding. He wants us to demonstrate the faith of a fisherman, following his lead no matter how implausible success might seem.

Did Peter catch a fish with a coin in its mouth? That I can’t answer, but I am certain that if he put a line in the water that day, then such a fish was waiting for him. What is the step of faith that God wants me to take today? It surely won’t be as difficult to believe as Peter’s.