There are two topics that Jesus addresses more than any other in Scripture. The first is what is addressed in chapter 13, the kingdom of God, and the second is finances. Aren’t you glad we are going to address the kingdom of God, which is Jesus’ favorite topic?
There are some who take a very metaphorical approach to heaven and hell. Some see heaven as a time in which we are in full communion with God and the relationship that we have with Him is complete. Hell then becomes a complete separation from God, and an experience that is, well, an experience. They would deny any real presence of heaven or hell and normally would also deny a time of decision or separation where God chooses those who are fit for heaven and those fit for hell.
On this topic, the kingdom of God, I fall on the same of the literalists. I do believe in a literal, physical heaven, and no, it is not a place on earth (sorry Belinda Carlisle). In the same manner I believe in a literal hell where, as Matthew states here, that “the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I don’t dwell on it, it isn’t my favorite topic, but it should also not be avoided.
An integral part of the kingdom of God is that there is a time and a process of separation. We can’t deny that, at least not if we are going to take seriously Matthew 13. The parable that we all know is that of the sower who sows seeds on the different types of ground. I love how Jesus actually takes the time to explain the parable in vs. 18ff, so I really don’t need to. He warns the crowds, and so warns us, to not be so shallow that we don’t allow ourselves to cling to the Word of God. Reading Scripture daily allows us to prevent our lives from being that of walkers on the shallow path. He warns us not to be so caught up in the present that when the future comes we lose the joy and the excitement that comes with joining the church or being a disciple of Jesus Christ. We need soil that runs deep and not find ourselves treading on rocky ground. He warns us not to be so caught up the cares of the world that it chokes out the Word because we are so caught up in the wealth and status of being who we are.
All of this is great for us to hear as we live in a world where deep understanding of the Word of God is discouraged and seen more as a crutch than a legitimate way of life. We live in a world where the here and now is all that counts so we are taught to put all of our eggs in one basket, and when life happens, we lose interest and wonder if we ever felt the love of God in the first place. We live in a world where we have enough troubles to last a lifetime and we are so focused on the material things of this world that who Jesus is gets chocked out by what we want and how we can get ahead.
All of the parables in this chapter take us to the kingdom of heaven as a place where God is choosing those who would follow him and those who would not find themselves separated from God, literally. Again, we end the chapter with a reference to Jesus’ family, and this time his sisters are included. His home town of Nazareth is not able to receive him because they are too familiar with him. I pray that we never think we are too familiar with Jesus that we stop understanding his Word, or just think his words refer to a distant heaven, or that his words have no relevance to a world which is dramatically different from the one in which he lived. Jesus continues to teach and guide us in ways we could never imagine if we would just let him.