Tag Archives: Kingdom of Heaven

Unstoppable?

In a garden I used to tend, there was a terrace, made up of crazy paving, some years old. I liked it, but the cracks encouraged the weeds, so much so I sometimes ran the lawnmower over the paving to try and keep the weeds under control.

I am reminded of that by the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which Jesus tells in just 2 verses (Matthew 13:31,32).  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree . .”

The point is the growth, from a tiny seed that you can easily blow out of your hand, to a tree of 10 feet (3 metres) or more. It is an encouragement – the Kingdom of God seems so feeble!  What if people follow Jesus, what if they call themselves his disciples, and do what he wants?  That’s not going to achieve anything in the real world, is it?

Yes, it is.  When the seed is sown in a mind which has integrity and a desire for truth, then it grows, from an interest to a passion, from a passion to a purpose, and it gives strength and shape to a whole life.  When the seed of the Kingdom is sown in a community, there too it will grow, attracting the good and gaining strength, becoming not insignificant, but something of strength and beauty and usefulness.

Historians will be better able than I to chart this through history. I can only suggest that again and again Christian faith has been ridiculed, seen as perverse, obsolete superstition, fit only for the weak and senile. Again and again Christian faith has outlasted its critics, and inspired work for society and its needy.

For that is the other thing. The mustard seed does not only grow into a tree, bringing the encouragement of growth from insignificant beginnings, we are also told: 13:32 “. . when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  The tree doesn’t just please itself – it fits into God’s wider purpose. The Kingdom of God is not about our belonging to a club, but being part of something which serves God’s purposes.

Do the birds represent the Gentiles, who would come to faith as Paul took the Gospel beyond Judaism? Do they now represent those who need shelter and care in our society? Should we see the refugees or others needing a welcome as some of the birds in our local tree? Or perhaps we might look those on the edge of faith, stressed and pressured by the world we have made, needing the reassurance that God welcomes and loves them delivered by our smile and help.  (That is why I am involved with Christians Against Poverty, among other groups – see “Some Interests”)

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  Like the weeds on my paving, some people will attack with mower or spray, but the growth can never be totally prevented.  We can hinder the process, producing a weak and brittle stem which will offer no support for any but the smallest bird without threatening collapse.  But there will be other seeds and trees to mock our failure. The Kingdom of heaven, often written off or ignored, is like an insignificant mustard seed, tiny, yet growing strong and useful.

Fitting it all together

The gospel reading this Sunday is long – either the full account of Jesus’ Passion from Matthew, or a shorter version.  That leaves us to try and make sense of all that is going on.  It is rather like a detective story.  Different events, perhaps connected, but is there a pattern?  It all comes together at the Cross, as Jesus dies, with the last strands tied up at the Resurrection.

Let me try and bring two major strands together. One picture of Jesus comes from the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of a “Suffering Servant”.  It doesn’t make easy reading:

Isa 53:6 All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

His suffering is, somehow, for us. By his death, he sets us free. It’s not obvious – partly because it is not flattering. It means I need someone else to die in my place. Coming to terms with that is part of the offence of the gospel – like the reminder that Christian life begins with repentance, and trusting God to do for me what I am incapable of.

But I talked about a detective story. Alongside this theme of Suffering for us in the way Isaiah described, there are others. Perhaps the easiest is Jesus the Messiah King:

Mat 21:5 “Tell the city of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides into Jerusalem, cheered by excited crowds.  All through his ministry, he had spoken of the Kingdom of God (Matthew calls it the Kingdom of Heaven), and slowly his friends came to understand that it didn’t mean a revolution against the Romans. It meant a community of people, for whom “God rules” – God in charge, directing lives, activity, priorities.

It seems that Jesus was the first to put together these 2 great ideas – the King, and the Servant. 2 ideas which nobody else had imagined could combine in one person!  But don’t think that is all there is. We could talk about why it was important that his identification with us included suffering, so that all who suffer and have suffered know he understands. We could talk about Sacrifice, and how Jesus is both priest and sacrifice. Or we could see that through the language of the “Lamb of God”.  That’s not a complete list! There are so many things brought together, resolved and explained at the cross. But if that is difficult to focus on, or to remember for more than a minute, just take the two.

Jesus is the Suffering Servant. Isa 53:5,6  But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received.  All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the LORD made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.

Jesus is the promised King  Psa 89:3,4  You said, “I have made a covenant with the man I chose; I have promised my servant David, ‘A descendant of yours will always be king; I will preserve your dynasty forever.’ “

and if nobody expected those to come together, that is why it was unexpected!