Back in college I took a road trip with two friends for spring break. Like most starving students, we barely had enough money for gas, and less for beer. Food was an afterthought. But we had to eat, so we hit the grocery store and grabbed whatever we could afford.
As I was standing in the check-out line, my buddy Gordon came up behind me holding a container of mustard, a loaf of bread, and two cases of beer. No cheese. No meats. No other condiments. He had all that he needed. For Gordon, there was nothing better than a mustard sandwich and a cold beer.
Who would have thought something as common as mustard, which is made from a scrubby weed, could bring a person so much joy? As we continue to look at the parables of Jesus, we know that everything has value in the kingdom of heaven.
He put before them another parable: “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, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
There are seven parables in this one chapter alone. Each describing what the kingdom of heaven is like.
It’s like a farmer who throws seeds everywhere to see what will grow. A place where wheat and weeds grow together. Today, it’s like a tiny mustard seed planted on purpose. And a pinch of yeast that was intentionally added to some dough. This is God’s kingdom that we have been blessed to be a part of.
Jesus began his public ministry telling people to “Repent,” because the “the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As we see in scripture, Jesus uses parables to show us just how close this heavenly kingdom is. It’s as close as the ground is to our feet. We can see it with our eyes, touch it with our hands, and taste and savor its goodness.
Jesus uses parables help his followers to see and understand that God is not hidden away in some far away land. God’s divine presence is right here in our midst whether we know it or not. He knows this because he was the one sent to reveal it to us.
Every time Jesus healed someone who was sick, or forgave someone who had sinned, or reached out to someone pushed to the margins of society, Jesus made this heavenly kingdom visible and come to life.
Now, out of all his parables I think the one about the mustard seed is probably the most well-known. There’s a good chance you have heard it to describe one’s faith as in it only takes a little faith to make something big happen. I have taught that before.
But in reading these parables through the lens of Anamesa, I began to wonder exactly whose faith are we talking about? Our faith in God? Or God’s faith in us?
I think when we make it about ourselves, we miss the point Jesus is trying to make. The kingdom of heaven has come. God is near us and with us. If you want to see God, one needs to look no further than Jesus - the living incarnation of God’s glory.
That’s what Jesus is always revealing – not his humanity, but his divinity. Everything he says and does points our attention towards God to lead us back to God. Which gives us a real perspective on how we are to live our lives in imitation of him.
With that said, these parables, like every day ordinary life, really aren’t about us or what we can do. They’re about God and what God does in this heavenly space.
God sows seeds of love. God deals with the wheat and the weeds. God transforms a worthless scrub into a thriving sanctuary. God expands the dough to feed a hungry world.
You might be wondering why Jesus uses the most ordinary things in life to reveal what God is capable of doing. I suspect it’s because God uses ordinary everyday people like you and me to continue what Jesus began.
Like St. Teresa of Avila famously noted, “God has no hands or feet or voice except ours and through these God works.”
God always works with and through the ordinary. Ordinary wine, ordinary bread. An ordinary table. An ordinary grave. God even uses everyday saints like you and me, imperfect as we are, to usher in the kingdom of heaven.
You might think because because your faith is in doubt, or because you don’t know the bible very well, or you have done more screwing up than showing up that God has no use for you. But here’s the thing, Jesus does not use the seven wonders of the world to envision God’s kingdom. He uses common stories about every day, ordinary things to embolden and empower us into action.
Take yeast for example. You might already know that yeast works by making thousands of tiny pockets of air in the dough. But back in Jesus’ days, yeast was used in Jewish stories as a symbol of corruption and impurity.
Jesus makes it very clear that we are also a part of this kingdom he ushered in, and we too are called to participate in this kingdom like he did. It should go without saying that if we are going to follow him, then we must literally follow his example of kingdom living.
You see, to be his church, to be a living thriving growing part of his holy body, isn’t just about loving God and loving others. It’s also about serving both. This is how we become the visible presence of God’s love in a world that is crying out for it.
We might not ever have the chance to heal someone, but we can be there for them when they are suffering. By simply holding that space, as vessels of God’s compassion, we make the kingdom of heaven come near.
We might not get the chance to miraculously feed thousands of people at one time. But in every dish we bring to a lonely neighbor, or every meal we buy for someone who hasn’t eaten today, the kingdom of heaven comes near.
Every smile we offer, every flower we plant, every wrong we right a little bit of heaven is revealed to those who may never get the chance to see it.
As John the Apostle wrote, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us” (1 John 4:12).
Whenever and wherever we show love through acts of compassion and kindness, hospitality and humility, justice and peacemaking God is made manifest in us, and the kingdom of heaven is brought within everyone’s reach.
Paul writes, “it’s God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill God’s good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). That purpose is to share and spread God’s glory over all of creation.
How we do that is simple. Love God, love others, and serve both. This isn’t the work of saints, but the way of becoming one. It is the way of Jesus, who has invited us to follow.
Each one of us - as ordinary as we think we are - have been made a little extra ordinary through the power of God’s love given to us through Christ Jesus.
I like to believe that if Jesus were to give us a parable today, we might hear him say, “The kingdom of heaven is like a candy maker who infused candy with mustard.” He would tell us that God is the confectioner. We are the confection. And the mustard is God’s love.
Sweet and sour might seem like an unlikely pair. The same could be said about human and divine. But as Jesus showed us, that’s how it is in the kingdom of heaven.
Adapted from Thriving Together on July 26, 2020.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”