26He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet 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.”
33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
What I Am Learning:
Jesus proclaimed and trusted in the kingdom of God. He risked his reputation, his family’s honor and his very life for it.
So here is a question: Do we?
We see a church exists and has existed for a long time. We think that the church will continue to exist, even if here in the PNW it is getting smaller. But the church is not the same thing as the kingdom of God.
We see lots of Christians believe that Jesus will come again one day. But a majority of Christian imagination about Jesus’ second coming is a basically an excuse for not caring about the earth and its people.
We see lots of believe believe in Jesus. They believe lots of things about Jesus: he is the Son of God, he died for our sins and he rose from the dead. But these beliefs are often not connected to the meaning of these things in the world of the first disciples. They have almost become, for many, a kind of a password to the church club.
We see lots of Christians assume that the kingdom of God is the place we go when we die. But this turns the real-world love of Jesus into a passive waiting game for the real party to start.
We see lots of Christians assuming that the kingdom of God is something that happens only in side of us. It is a personal experience of inner peace. But this cuts the inner peace of Jesus in half as our inner peace comes in the midst of the struggle for justice.
- Jesus did not just believe that he could start a religion.
- Jesus did not believe that his coming again was an invitation to passivity by his disciples.
- Jesus did not believe in certain doctrines about himself.
- Jesus did not believe that the kingdom of God is only accessible to us after death.
- Jesus did not believe that the kingdom of God is only for our inner, individual experience.
Jesus proclaimed and trusted in the kingdom of God – what we call God’s way of mutuality.
God’s Way of Mutuality is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.
We struggle to share Jesus’ trust in God’s way of mutuality for several reasons:
- It has been 2000 years and it has not come yet and it probably won’t
- We think WE have to make it happen
Christians, of course, look to Jesus for his response to these questions.
1. It has been 2000 years and the kingdom of God has not come yet and it probably won’t
Jesus grew up in the 4th or 5th generation of people who had experienced Roman occupation. Things were not getting better. Romans were building new cities with Roman names and renaming cities with Roman names. Romans were taking ownership of more and more of Palestine. Poverty among the native people was increasing.
By the time Jesus had become an adult, his people had been hoping for the kingdom of God for 2 centuries. They might well have said, “It hasn’t come in two centuries, it will never come.” This was an expression of their very realistic despair.
To this despair he responded, in today’s text, that the kingdom of God is like grain that someone scatters. You sleep and rise night and day and it grows – you don’t know how. And then one day, with the sun, rain and soil the harvest comes.
People in Mediterranean believed that God made the seed to grow and the flocks to multiply. God is the one who makes the reign of God grow.
Despair is the chief attitude of our day toward the future.
Jesus lived in a similar situation of despair as we do. The time scale might be a bit different. But realistically, despair is despair no matter the number of years.
His response to that despair was to invite disciples to see that our meaningful participation in the kingdom of God is to sow seeds. It is not our job to make the harvest grow. We are invited to live our lives: to sleep and wake, night and day. Jesus is not inviting us to only sow seeds, but rather to see that sowing the seeds of God’s way of mutuality as a part of what makes life meaningful. We are still invited to plant gardens, to love our families, to cook and eat dinner, go hiking and just sit in the sun for a while.
Jesus invites us to sow seeds and to live our lives with the gratitude for the gifts they are.
2. We think WE have to make it happen
To this question Jesus offers another agrarian image: the sowing of mustard seeds. Now Jesus was not a botanist and so he did not know that mustard seeds are not the smallest of all seeds. We can forgive him for that! But what most of us don’t know is the symbology of mustard seeds In first century Palestine. After the Romans foreclosed on a piece of property their managers would invite workers to go out into the fields. This included some of the former owners. These workers would take mustard seeds out with them and sow them in the fields as a sign of resistance to the bullying culture of the Romans.
We are called to resist the bullying culture of our day. We are called to do some sabotage. But we are not called to force things. Jesus does not say we are to use a bulldozer to make change. Rather change takes place in nonviolent and almost playful way.
But then the kicker: Jesus says that the mustard plant grows into a scrub and that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches. This is a quote from Ezekiel 17 and 31 and also in Daniel. The birds of the air are a reference to all the nations of the world. In other words, while we are called to resist the bullying culture, and that the reign of God will replace it, but even those who are a part of that bullying culture are invited to the kingdom of God.
You can imagine, maybe, the anger of the people of Israel at their treatment by the Romans. Jesus reminds them that their anger at their oppressors, while shared by God, does not rule God. As Paul would later say, it is not against flesh and blood (people) that we fight but against the principalities and powers (bullying culture and spirituality).
If Jesus had not said this, then the rightful anger of the People of Israel could be easily turned to another form of violence.
We do not need make it happen, but we do resist bullying culture and its spirituality. One part of how we do this is by remembering that even those high up in the pyramid of the bullying culture are God’s beloved children.
I think it is time that Christians repent of believing things about Jesus, reducing the reign of God to manageable proportions, and begin to share in the belief that he was willing to live and die for: the kingdom of God / God’s way of mutuality.
We are called to sow seeds, and to wait for the harvest. We are called to resist bullying culture and its spirituality – and we are called to resist the impulse to hate those people caught up in it and those who promote it – the birds of the air, the Roman people, were welcome to God’s reign too.
Jesus invites us to remember that a part of meaningful life is to sow seeds of God's way of mutuality and to wait for the harvest. This sowing, waiting and reaping are a part of what makes for a meaningful life. It makes the gift of life sweeter, doing our part until God brings the the kingdom in its fulness.
Come Lord Jesus! Come among us.
Here are the texts from Ezekiel and Daniel:
22Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. 24All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.
All the birds of the air
made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the animals of the field
gave birth to their young;
and in its shade
all great nations lived.
7Then the magicians, the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the diviners came in, and I told them the dream, but they could not tell me its interpretation. 8At last Daniel came in before me—he who was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god, and who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods*—and I told him the dream: 9‘O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods* and that no mystery is too difficult for you. Hear* the dream that I saw; tell me its interpretation.
10 *Upon my bed this is what I saw;
there was a tree at the centre of the earth,
and its height was great.
11 The tree grew great and strong,
its top reached to heaven,
and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth.
12 Its foliage was beautiful,
its fruit abundant,
and it provided food for all.
The animals of the field found shade under it,
the birds of the air nested in its branches,
and from it all living beings were fed.
13 ‘I continued looking, in the visions of my head as I lay in bed, and there was a holy watcher, coming down from heaven. 14He cried aloud and said:
“Cut down the tree and chop off its branches,
strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit.
Let the animals flee from beneath it
and the birds from its branches.
15 But leave its stump and roots in the ground,
with a band of iron and bronze,
in the tender grass of the field.
Let him be bathed with the dew of heaven,
and let his lot be with the animals of the field
in the grass of the earth.
16 Let his mind be changed from that of a human,
and let the mind of an animal be given to him.
And let seven times pass over him.
17 The sentence is rendered by decree of the watchers,
the decision is given by order of the holy ones,
in order that all who live may know
that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdom of mortals;
he gives it to whom he will
and sets over it the lowliest of human beings.”