“The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise day and night, and the seed would sprout and grow, they do not know how.”
Friday, 18 June 2021
The mustard tree is not a plant that would catch your eye. It is too short to qualify as a tree and too shapeless and bare to pass for a bush.
Another dimension of the parable, which we might easily overlook, is that Jesus chose a humble plant to illustrate the grand theme of the Kingdom of God. When the Hebrew Bible wanted to symbolise powerful kingdoms with plants, it used fittingly majestic trees. For example, the cosmic tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision in Daniel 4 standing for the Babylonian empire (“it was large and strong, with its top touching the heavens, and it could be seen to the ends of the earth. … Under it the wild beasts found shade, in its branches the birds of the air nested; all men ate of it.” Daniel 4:8-9).
In Ezekiel’s vision in Sunday’s first reading (Ezekiel 17:22-24), the restoration of the people of Israel after the Babylonian captivity is imaged as a shoot plucked from the crest of a cedar (Babylon). It is planted on a high mountain where it becomes a majestic cedar and “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it.” A cedar is a big tree that you cannot but notice!
Jesus uses an unconventional image for the Kingdom of God. In choosing this metaphor, Jesus seems to be telling us that the reign of God is showing itself in ways that are more ordinary, more humble, and more present than we think or notice.
The contrast between the tiny seed and its spectacular growth reminds us that, once planted, the seed of God’s word will exhibit a divine power that produces more than our human endeavours could ever hope to achieve.
Mother Teresa offers a fascinating and powerful insight into this parable. She was responding to someone who told her that she could never be successful in meeting the needs of all those dying in the streets of Calcutta. “I am not called to be successful. I am called to be faithful. We help with the sowing; God does the growing.” There is great humility in that response and it reminds us, like the small shrub, that we are invited to do one thing: be humble, ordinary servants of the Kingdom.
In what humble and ordinary ways are you making God’s Kingdom present? List five. Where might God be calling you to humility at this time so that you can bring about the reign of the Kingdom?