He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32
In the last post, we centered around a farmer...who planted a seed...sat back...did nothing. And yet, there was growth. The image confronts our need to be constantly in control...as if God's realm was all up to us. As if, we can force growth. And we know this to be true. As Richard Rohr says, "You cannot think your way into a new way of living, you have live your way into a new way of thinking." This is what is so difficult in our world today. We want instant and immediate results. We want to microwave our way through growth. Let's change the world now! The moral arc may bend toward justice...but the arc is long and takes time; like a seed that grows slowly over time.
And if the parable did not challenge us enough, Jesus follows up the parable with the sequel of the mustard seed. You maybe have heard about how small the mustard seed is and the preacher talk about that is all the faith you need. But the subversive truth is, like the dandelion, many people in Jesus’ day thought the mustard seed to be a weed. It would pop up almost anywhere and start multiplying. And like that dandelion, the mustard seed did have some medicinal purposes, but it wasn’t exactly a cash crop. No one really tried to grow it, it just grew ~ and grew ~ and grew!! It wasn’t easily eradicated, it would just keep on growing in your well-manicured, carefully maintained garden.
And a mustard seed shrub is one thing, but then birds come to nest there. Most farmers will tell you, they prefer to keep birds away from their land. Hence the scarecrow. Birds are a nuisance. So, in the sequel parable, you get a weed that you can't control and birds hanging around that you'd prefer to go away.
And this is the realm of God!?!?
What kinds of things do you call "weeds" might just be the way God is working?
Is there something you see as a nuisance that might be the sacred getting your attention?
See what I mean when I said in the last post that parables are like a fun house mirror distorting how we see?
When we say, “Your kingdom come…” these two parables challenge and cut to the core of what we are asking God to do. We are asking God to be at the center of our lives, we are asking God to plant seeds others in the world might call weeds, we are asking God wisdom that might just fly in the face of what the world trusts and sees as truth.
There is usually an expectation in talking about the Bible that at this point ~ somehow ~ in some way, like Nik Wallenda walking across a tight rope ~ I now take these truths and offer to you some practical and relevant way to take all of this home with you. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, I would end this post by saying, “Here is a truth. Ta-da”.
But I am not sure I can with these two twin parables.
One tells us to plant, to do what we can and where, but that often growth happens even in spite of our own efforts. Have you ever seen that plant growing in your life when you are volunteering?
The other tells us to be careful what we call a weed, because it might actually be the way God is working and moving in our midst. Have you ever seen that kind of mustard seed in life where initially you thought, “This is the worst thing ever” only to eventually see a blessing in that moment?
Like liquid running up a wall, both of these defy the gravity of how we see the world. Rather than offering some simple resolution, I want to invite us to stick and stay in the tension. Because there are moments Jesus caused more confusion than clarity and that is certainly true here.
So, where might you plant a seed in a relationship with someone, sit back, rather than try to command or control and see what happens? Realizing that it isn’t all up to you, but God is up to something in your life.
Or where might you reconsider what you called a weed, some experience or event, in your life right now? My prayer is that the seeds that are growing today whether we find them to be helpful or want to dig them out the way my parents would with dandelions, the seeds might help to reform, re-frame, refashion, and remind us of the holy truth that God is not finished with us yet. And to that I say, thanks be to God.