How do they know she’s a Christian?

If it has feathers, it’s a bird. If it runs on tracks, it’s a train. If he plays a guitar, he’s a guitarist. If she ??? she’s a Christian?

This Sunday, we will hear two parables told by Jesus. The text is in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew.

As I wrote last week, the chapter houses seven parables which Jesus used to explain “the kingdom of God.”

Two weeks ago, in The Colour and Sex of Kingdom People, I considered the parable of the soils. Last week, in Tares Look Identical to Wheat, I considered the parable of the weeds. Here, I’ll consider the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven (yeast).[1]

Jesus said the Kingdom of God can be compared to mustard seeds and to yeast. Why?

I begin with two reminders. First, as I said last week,[2] “kingdom” is a political term. It’s another word for government. Second, Jesus was born in, lived in, and worked in, occupied territory.

Abuse of power by government – unequal treatment, heavy taxation, hunger – were the norms. People wanted new leaders. A new kingdom. A new king – they wanted Jesus to be their new king (John 6:15)!

Jesus said a new kingdom had come. He spoke about it in parables, a method of speaking which meant his speeches could be understood in many different ways – like the speeches of politicians!

He didn’t call people to rise up in armed rebellion. He called people to “repent.”

Whom did he call to repent? People at all levels of society.

Why am I so sure? Because of the basis, the grounds, upon which he called people to repent. He said “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here.” In other words, because there’s a new, no-nonsense government.

Why is it a no-nonsense government? Because it ensures things like:[3]

  1. Justice and fairness – see Deuteronomy 16:19-20.
  2. Compassion and care for the marginalized – Micah 6:8.
  3. Servant leadership – Mark 10:42-45.
  4. Integrity – Psalm 15:2-5.
  5. Striving for unity – Romans 12:18.
  6. Respect for conscience – Romans 14:12-13; Galatians 5:1.
  7. Openness to criticism – Isaiah 10:1-2.

During Jesus’ time, several groups worked for a new government. The Essenes withdrew, purified themselves, and waited. The Zealots sharpened and used their swords. The Sadducees collaborated with the Romans. The Pharisees stressed rituals and rule-keeping.

Jesus called for something different. He said change takes time, but one thing is urgent: repentance.[4]

Repentance means accepting responsibility for others under Jesus as king.

Repentance means loving others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31), as Jesus loves us – to the extent of dying for us (1 John 3:16). It means ensuring everyone has the same rights and responsibilities.

Repentance means becoming neighbours whom others want to make kings, holders of power, producers of change, like seeds and yeast.

He said the more people repent, the sooner the new kingdom will emerge.

He said the growth of the kingdom will be slow, but sure. A little seed ends up as a huge tree. A little yeast makes many loaves of bread.

So, how to spot a Christian, a person who has repented, turned, become different from those around him?

A Christian is a person who demonstrates love[5] and takes responsibility.

For whom? For his government and state, for his family, and for his church – Luther’s “three estates,” politia, oeconomia and ekklesia.

Three other elements can be spotted in a Christian: a burden, a hope, and a mission.

The burden is based on knowing we’re infected by sin, which made us repulsive to God. But through the crucifixion of Jesus, we’re now accepted by God.[6]

The hope springs from knowing the King is the resurrected Jesus, through whom all things were made[7], knowing He has a plan, and that He will bring His kingdom to complete realization, in His time.

The mission is founded on His command that we proclaim Jesus, make disciples, and labour to make the governments of the world fulfil the aspirations of all mankind – and of the King, God.

A Christian is one whose loving speech and actions demonstrate that burden, hope, and mission. How many Christians have you spotted?

[1] Lectionary readings for 30 July. Scroll down for the Gospel lection, Matthew 13:31-33.

[2] Citing Bible scholar Bruce J Malina.

[3] Although at the time of Jesus earthly ministry “the New Testament” did not yet exist,  I’ll reference some New Testament texts, since the entire Bible is God’s word.

[4] Repentance means discarding anything which doesn’t put God first.

[5] Matthew 22:37-39 [Jesus said] “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

[6] Isaiah 61:10
 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels..

[7] 1 Corinthians 8:6

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