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.