The Rev. Kathi Johnson
+ INJ +
How can the Kingdom of God be like this…? I mean, how on earthcan the Kingdom of God be compared to this little seed? This seed, that, if I dropped it onto the ground, would be buried in the carpet or lost in the grass? It’s not the smallest seed, but it is small, and it could easily be dropped and lost. Surely Jesus has it wrong here and the Kingdom of God should be compared to a seed bigger than this – a seed at least as big as the avocado pits that I used to stick into water until I could see the roots form.
Today’s Parable of the Mustard Seed comes in the midst of other parables, and in these stories, Jesus is using common images that his listeners can see to describe that which is not seen. Unlike the avocado pit, the roots of which we could see growing in the water, once we put a little mustard seed into the dirt, the growth of the roots is out of sight. We plant this little seed into the soil and trust that something is happening under there – but we don’t really know until the stems and leaves begin to poke their way out of the dirt and into the light.
It’s as if Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God is found down in the dirt – in the humility of a seed surrounded by dirt and manure and earthworms and insects. In these humble circumstances is where growth happens, and when that growth emerges from the dirt, it can grow into a shrub big enough to provide shade for the birds.
A modern day parable: One night this past week, I was catching up on Twitter. I kept seeing this random hashtag – something about a raccoon, and I kept thinking, “What is up with this raccoon?” So, I looked further and found myself enmeshed in the saga of a small raccoon that had spent most of the day scaling a 24-story building in St. Paul, Minnesota. Like so many others, I couldn’t turn away from the raccoon’s hashtag. Like so many others, I needed to go to bed but I kept refreshing Twitter anyway so I could see what happened to the little critter.
Like so many others, I finally went to bed, uttering prayers for her safety. The next morning, I discovered that in the early morning hours, the raccoon had gotten herself up to the roof where she found cat food and water waiting for her. Twitter was downright jubilant for the first time in quite a while. In a rare show of unity, the world had rallied behind – or maybe underneath – a small mammal ascending the side of a building.
I think that the Kingdom of God is like that, too – found in the tenacity of a raccoon who is scared and tired and hungry – but keeps on going.
The parables of Jesus and our own modern-day parables help us remember just what the Kingdom of God is about, and what it’s not about. The Kingdom of God is found in the lamp shining to give light to others, or the plant growing to give shade to others. The Kingdom of God is found in the determination and strength of a raccoon scaling the side of a skyscraper. The Kingdom of God isn’t in the blustering of politicians who may quote Scripture – but offer no love for those in need.
Many teachings are attributed to the Apostle Paul, including this wisdom from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5: “…the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And [Jesus] died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
The tenacity of the love of God for us is shown to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That love doesn’t fall – it keeps going.
But this is the love that urges us on – not to acts of selfishness and greed, but to acts of love for others. If all we do is sit and revel in God’s love for us, we are like a seed that is planted but does not grow – and what is the good of that? The love of Christ urges us on – it must urge us on – because there are people in need of refuge and children in need of their parents and the needs of the world go on and on. The world needs to know of God’s stubborn and great love – for all of us.
There are times when it is difficult to see. But the Kingdom of God scales buildings, and it digs holes in the dirt and grows. And then, the Kingdom of God stretches out, like a big, fat shrub, to offer whatever it can.
May God give us strength to live not for ourselves, but for Christ and for others.
+ SDG +