Jesus once taught about what the kingdom of God was like by saying that it was like a mustard seed: the tiniest of seeds grows into a bush so big that birds can nest in it. It’s a great metaphor for a common biblical theme, that greatness often comes from the smallest, or the least, of things. Plant the seed and it will grow into something much greater.
But it’s also one that would have left any first century farmer – or any century farmer, for that matter – wondering about a few things. The mustard is small, that’s for sure, but it’s not the smallest seed. It doesn’t grow all that big, either. Certainly not big enough for birds to nest in. And, worst of all, it’s a weed. Sure it was used for flavouring and colouring things, and it was a medicinal herb, but really it was more of an annoyance to farmers than anything else.
I wonder if Jesus means something more radical, something more complex than simply plant the seed of faith and it will grow into a great flourishing kingdom.
What if the mustard seed isn’t just about size, but “ordinariness?” Nothing unique or exotic, but something you might see anywhere, at anytime. What if the point of growing into a great bush isn’t about what we know can happen, but about envisioning something far beyond what we expect, imagining something greater than our own limited experience would allow? What if the point of using a weed is to suggest that we need to look again at what really is valuable to us? We call something a weed because we don’t see its value compared to a more useful plant, but that doesn’t mean it has no value – we just don’t see it. Perhaps others do.
Our lives are full of little, ordinary, everyday things. Even acknowledging that is problematic, isn’t it? What’s little, ordinary or everyday may be different for each of us. But every step moves us somewhere and it’s worth pausing sometimes to wonder about the simplest things we do and where they are taking us. And not just ourselves, of course. The truth is that Jesus didn’t do anything super complicated. Jesus made time for people, especially those that others didn’t. Jesus listened to people, especially those that others didn’t. Jesus cared for people as best he could, especially those that others didn’t. Jesus loved people, especially those that others didn’t. Even the miracle stories can be understood to be less a divine action in the physical realm and more a divine action of love. When the possessed were exorcized of their demons, it was a miracle that Jesus simply gave them time, understanding and respect that restored their dignity and sense of personhood. When the blind received sight, it was a miracle that Jesus simply made them visible to the world and restored their place in it. When the multitude was hungry, it was a miracle that Jesus inspired such generosity and sharing with a simple gesture of offering all that there was, that all could be fed. Simple, ordinary acts change things.
Our daily lives can also be limited by our expectations. We think we know how it’s going to go and we limit our thinking to that end. But what if we let go of expectations and used imagination sometimes. And I don’t mean pressure to achieve or complete or meet a certain standard, I mean letting go of that and imagining the possibilities if we weren’t limited by our own – or anyone else’s – expectations. A couple of weeks ago in our church in Ponoka and again this week in Bashaw, I’ve watched children imagine bracelets from cardboard and tinfoil, shields from foam waterboards, capes from towels and make up their own superhero logo, not to imagine that they’re Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman or Spiderman, but to be the superhero that they already are. These are the super powers we all have: caring, bravery, kindness, wisdom and love. Comic book superheroes are great entertainment, but these are real and if you don’t think they’re super, read my thoughts on Jesus and the miracle stories in the preceding paragraph again.
I guess maybe that’s also the perception part. Weed or valued plant? Part of how we understand “the kingdom of God” is to recognize the diversity of views that contribute to – and challenge – how we perceive it. God is one, but we are many and come from many places. Respect, understanding and love (and probably a whole lot of patience) is how we come to share in the life we all have together.
And that’s another thing about this parable of the mustard seed: it doesn’t just spontaneously burst into a giant bush right from the seed. It takes time, it takes care and nurture, and there are often lots of twists and turns on the way. Sometimes it takes more than one person to care for it. And God. That’s pretty obvious with a seed, but what about your life? If we don’t take the time to plant, feed and water our own lives, we won’t have much to bring to the bigger field, the life we share with others. One little seed is the start of things.
What are you planting?