I have to give credit where its due…to the pastor who preached this past Sunday on Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 13, verses 31-33 and verses 44-49. What I’m really interested in today is this part of that Bible study:
31 He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; 32 and this is smaller than all other seeds, but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.”
To a lesser extent, I’m also going to talk about this one, even though it doesn’t have mustard as a condiment:
33 He spoke another parable to them, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.”
The pastor made an interesting point about the mustard seed, in that it doesn’t really produce a tree. I found some references to an actual “mustard tree” of some sort with some quick Googling, but mostly I think Jesus was talking about the herb, and various translations Jesus is quoted as saying something more along the lines of “herb” or “shrub” instead of “garden plants” which reinforces this.
I’m not going to fault Jesus for any confusion here. First, parables, much like metaphorical points we make in discussion and arguments, aren’t always precise, ya know? We use exageration and we gloss over inconvenient details because the point is to…well…make a point. Also, he may have been intentionally mixing the idea of the herb and the tree, even if they comes from very different seeds. Jesus was a deep and complex guy so who knows how many levels there are to this parable?
Anyway, the point the pastor made was that the mustard shrub is very much a weed, really. It is invasive and most people wouldn’t want mustard seeds sprouting in their gardens for fear that the mustard shrubs might choke out the desired plants.
And he made the point that Jesus did this on purpose to turn people’s expectations on their head and make them look at the world in a revolutionary way. He was telling his listeners that the kingdom of God was going to spread like a weed. And that in growing and spreading there would also be some chaos and some discomfort. And he didn’t compare the kingdom of heaven to something grand, like the cedars of Lebanon, but to something lowly instead which reminds me of how God make wisdom from foolish things and produces strength from supposedly weak people.
The leaven parable, he noted, was also something that used imagery that Jesus’s audience might not have found comfortable. Think of how in one of the most holy days of the Jews, Passover, the focus is on unleavened bread. And in general, many breads of the region in those days were unleavened. To some extent, yeast/leaven wasn’t a good thing. So for Jesus to use it as an example to describe the kingdom of God might, again, be a way to shake people up.
We like to see Jesus as some placid guy who was really sweet. We forget that he overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple and whipped them out with a length of rope. We forget that he cursed a fig bush for not having fruit on it. We forget that he could be sharp, short and even sarcastic with people.
Jesus was all about love but he also had a bit of mischief in him. He knew how to shake things up. We need to remember that about him and about the new convenant. It isn’t about peace and quiet.
It’s about turning things on their heads sometimes.
(Click here for Deke’s post on today’s topic)