Laban said, “This is not done in our country …”
In his explanation for giving Leah to Jacob before he gives Rachel, Laban offers cultural custom as his excuse – it’s just not done. The custom becomes the excuse for not honoring his agreement with Jacob.
Regardless of how we may interpret Laban’s act, at some level, many of us can appreciate the instinct to honor customs. Some of us may be very active in institutions or even families that understand their role as guardians or safe keepers of cherished customs and traditions.
Thus we can probably relate when custom or tradition is invoked in opposition to something new when the new thing is disturbing the way things are. I suspect we can all think of some occasion when we’ve heard custom used as the argument against a new idea. There is certainly no shortage of these disturbances within the Episcopal Church.
In fact one such disturbance occurred forty-three years ago – almost to the day – on July 29th in Philadelphia. Three retired bishops broke with custom and ordained eleven women as priests. There was no precedent for this audacious act. Yet here it was – in our midst – creating both furor and rejoicing throughout the church for years to come.
This act was not a violation of any law but it went against the custom of the time – the ordination of only men as priests. Because it violated no law it was not illegal; however, because it did not conform to custom it was considered “irregular”.
With time the Episcopal Church adapted to this irregularity, first by amending its rules to approve of the ordination of women to the priesthood. But it still took time for the irregular to become regular – that is a part of our custom.
The Episcopal Church has had an entire generation of women priests serve faithfully during that time, and an entire generation of Episcopalians has been raised up that has never known a time when there were not female priests.
Nonetheless, the change of customs takes time. It took another twenty-three years before the Church of England – our cultural cousins – ordained women to the priesthood. It took twenty-six years before Epiphany called Mother Barbara to be its first female priest. And it took forty-three years for the Church of England to finally approve the ordination of women as bishops.
But the matter is still not settled within much of the Anglican Communion where our sisters and brothers in Christ are bound by cultural customs that say “this is not done.” I don’t point this out as a criticism but to observe that we are both constrained by our respective customs, which are different because we live in cultural realities that are vastly different. Therefore, we should respect and honor their faithful discipleship within the constraints of their customs.
However, things do change with time but at different paces and depending upon one’s perspective. Shifts in customs or even in the kingdom of heaven come slowly or with terrifying rapidity depending upon which side of the shift you are on. It can’t be fast enough if you are the firebrand that’s agitating for change, but it’s all too fast if you see your cherished tradition or way of life in the path of change.
As I am saying this, I am struck with a new appreciation of how the scribes, the Pharisees, the chief priests and others must have felt as Jesus began to preach and teach against their customs and practices.
Jesus too seems to appreciate these very same dynamics as he describes the kingdom of heaven in the parables we have heard this morning. The first two parables are shared publicly with a large crowd and they seem to be safe enough so as not to offend. But Jesus is not yet ready to begin his direct confrontation of the customs of the powers that be and their entrenched interests.
In the first parable the kingdom of heaven is compared to the harmless and tiny mustard seed; safe enough but for the improbable outcome – something apparently insignificant becomes something far vaster.
The yeast parable is likewise not shocking on its surface – people understand that yeast leavens bread – no big deal. But the reason that a little yeast is so effective is because it is so pervasive – it spreads throughout – all the dough is affected.
These are seemingly harmless parables, unless one listens closely and realizes the potential of the kingdom of heaven to bring about a shift in customs.
The last three parables are told in private – only to his disciples. These parables are more direct and speak directly to the kingdom of heaven in the context the of disciples’ Jewish heritage and customs. Thus the disciples readily understand them.
But it is the last verse that really invites our attention, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
To paraphrase, Jesus is telling the disciples that they are now experts in Jewish Law as well as being authorities on the kingdom of heaven. As such they are, ironically, now keepers or guardians of the customs of the kingdom of heaven, which will cherish its roots in the old – the Jewish Law or Torah even as it brings about the new – Jesus’ kingdom of heaven.
We are the heirs of this tradition – these customs – and we respect and honor the best of what has been handed down to us but we must also be prepared to test and challenge customs when and where error may be revealed.
As the masters of the household we dare not say, “It’s not done!” Rather we listen, we test the spirit of revelation, and we imagine what it may look like a generation from now.
 Genesis 29:26a
 Matthew 13:52