The Size of a Mustard Seed
Matthew 13:31-33, 43-55
There’s a difference between knowing something and knowing about something. I believe that Jesus smiled inwardly to himself as he sat teaching his disciples. They were a motley crew. No doubt about that. I wondered if he secretly prayed, “So Father, these are the people you have given me to save the world with?” By the time of these par- ables, Jesus and his disciples had been together for about a year and a half. And they looked it.
They owned nothing. Carried nothing. Jesus told them they must learn to trust that God will provide. And thus far, God had. Some nights they had slept on the velvet of a Pharisees’ couch having feasted at the table of this curious nobleman. Some days found them laying the head down in the cool soft earth of an orchard, their dinner, an olive or two.
Still, other days, they crowded into the small home of a widow and her son, with Jesus breaking the meager loaf of bread with the greatest sanctimony as if it were a grand banquet. Then there were days with a tax collector and the rest of the village peering through his windows, mouths hanging open in disbelief that this Rabbi and his crew would ac- tually eat the tainted food of a sinner. And some days, well… they were just some days.
So were their days, wandering from place to place in robes that had seen better days. Their skin becoming as leather under the mid- eastern sun, wearing sandals that they had started to patch the patches. Jesus could hardly believe that after all this time Peter, Andrew, James and John still smelled of fish. Matthew, the tax collector who liked pretty things, always sat at the other end of the table and sometimes would choose to sleep outside. The fishermen teased him because he was so delicate and complained about every hardship. James and John, had been nicked named the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their quick tempters. But it was Simon who Jesus watched. He had the blood of a zealot running through him and, in his quiet way, was capable of draw- ing a sword and possibly cutting off the ear of a Roman servant or two. But Thomas, he was easy – black and white. You always knew where you stood with Thomas. If he had a question, he asked it, a doubt he ex- pressed it.
There they were. As diverse a group as one could imagine and the ones God had given to Jesus to introduce the invasion of God into this world. Why had they left it all to follow? They all desired one thing… sal- vation.
There are people who believe that if you have been bullied your whole life, you get immune to it. Those who have actually been bullied tell a different story. They will tell you how every slight pierces like a sword into your heart. You never become desensitized to it. It drips into your pores, suffocates the spirit. If you are told you have no worth, you begin to believe that your existence is worthless. If you are enslaved with indentured service, that is all you are good for. If you are con- stantly treated like excrement on the soles of humanity, then you will spend your last dollar as your family starves, buying a pure white lamb at the temple in hopes that this sacrifice will redeem you. The Roman were bullies. The church was a bully.
So all these disciples were victims seeking salvation. Some joined this gang in hopes it would grow strong enough for them to regain their turf from the Romans. Some joined looking for healing for their wounded souls, a miracle or two. Some were hoping they had joined the winning side and would be held in some regard. Some were seeking no- bility for their souls. However they heard the call from God, they all came looking for salvation.
I can’t help but believe that Jesus is smiling still as he sits among us this morning praying a silent prayer, “So Father, these are the people you have given me o invade the world with your presence?” I’m not sug- gesting we are a motley crew, but let’s be honest, we’re a funny little family of faith, aren’t we? I have never met one that isn’t.
In the church you will find gathered just about as diverse a group of people as you will find anywhere. People who have nothing more in common than a faith in a God who has called them to this place to learn to love one another. And why did each one of us respond to that call? For one reason only, really, deep within we are all looking for salvation.
Some come because they see the people in the world being bul- lied by those whose only desire is to have more. Opulence is always built on the back of oppression and we choose to help the one left battered and broken on the side of the road.
Some are looking for redemption from the battering their souls take when they are told that second place means you’re just first in a long line of losers. Some are hoping that salvation will mean immunity from sickness and tragedy. Some are looking for the hope of salvation because they are ill and tragedy has already befallen them.
So what does Jesus say to all of us who come? “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of God invading this world is like a mustard seed. Now don’t miss the sacred in the common. A cur- sory glance at this saying tells us that the kingdom of God will start out small and then grow into something grand in this world. You can pin you hopes on that but, if you know anything about mustard seeds, common knowledge to the likes of Jesus’ disciples, you would know that mustard seeds soon grow into thick, invasive plants. This is a plant that will soon take over your beautifully landscaped home and turn it into a wild and leafy bird sanctuary.
The neighbours may snicker about what you did to your own yard having planted that seed but they’ll soon will get ticked off when the wind blows a seed or two-or fifty on to their yard. Jesus is trying to ex- plain to us the wildness of God’s kingdom. This is Jesus showing us that no one can make God conform the their rationalizations for the land- scapes of their lives, not the Romans, not the scribes and Pharisees, not the bullies. Jesus is trying to get the disciples to rip the veil in the holy of holies and let God out of the temple and to emancipate God from con- ventions that have kept God on a leash. Jesus is polluting expectations, crashing the respectable party, spiking the punchbowl.
These parables are more than Jesus just exhorting you and I to tidy up our lives. Jesus is announcing the realities of a life lived with God and how preposterous it can become. God, who is apparently unaware of the cost-benefit analysis of leaving 99 sheep alone and vulnerable and looking for the one that got away.
The reign of God grows from a tiny seed, not into a magnificent cedar, but into a mustard shrub certain to stick around and become a serious nuisance to our carefully landscaped lives. A Father whose son has totally disgraced him, sees his son coming home a loser, and swings open the front door, leaps the garden gate and runs down the road to greet him. Dignified men did not run in antiquity. This God that we have lifted upon a gold altar and draped in royal purple cloth apparently does.
This is the Kingdom of God. This is the salvation we are all looking for. Jesus prompts us to imagine how God, in the here and now, invad- ing our lives, can suppress and even subvert our perspectives and even our convictions about what is possible in our lives with God. Knowing that, really knowing, as opposed to just knowing about it, is what makes all the difference.
To know that there is a God who loves you so much that there isn’t anything this God wouldn’t do, including literally walking through hell, for you. No convention, no carefully planned landscaping will stop this God from invading, jumping, running, and leaving behind everyone else just to find you and embrace you.
I believe the Holy Spirit is grinning with us today. She’s a woman striding through the shadows with the leaven flour on her hands just waiting for the bread to rise twittering to herself, “They’ll never know what hit them.” I pray we will all experience the presence of the living God within our own lives and really know.