1) When I was a little boy
growing up in Vincennes, my father took me past his boyhood home and showed me
a large Walnut tree. This tree was special to him because when he was but a
small boy in the 1940s, his father helped him plant the walnut seed. My dad was
amazed that the seed sprouted and the tree grew. It is still there and is very
large! On this father’s day, my dad’s tree is a testament to his faith that
that small walnut would grow. He is still amazed that the tree grew from the
walnut and that it has withstood the test of time.
In the bible, the Cedar tree is
extolled as a symbol of the majesty of God. The cedar tree grows upwards to 130 feet
tall with a trunk of more than 8 ft in diameter. The Cedar trees of Israel
and Lebanon were used for building ships, palaces, and temples. King Solomon
built the great Temple in Jerusalem with cedar trees. And the
Psalmist reminds us that: The just person shall flourish like a cedar of
2) Yet even though the scripture says that the great cedar tree
will be lifted high, the prophet Ezekiel warns that the Lord will bring low the
high tree and lift high the lowly tree. And,
again, the prophet Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for
the pride of the world, as an arrogant example of worldly power and self-aggrandizement.
This is very similar to the
Gospel message where Mary, the mother of Jesus proclaimed in her Magnificat: “He
has cast down the arrogant of mind and heart; has thrown down the mighty from
their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”
3) Jesus listeners were likely taken aback when he proclaimed that
“the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.” A mustard seed? The smallest of
seeds? Jesus’ followers were likely waiting for him to declare that the Kingdom
of God is like a mighty cedar tree!
But no. Jesus confounds his
audience and maintains that the kingdom of God is like the wild mustard plants
that can grow into large shrubs and small trees. WHAT? The Mustard plant is a weed in contrast to the
impressive mighty cedar tree! While the
wild mustard takes over the field, we want order; but the weeds thrive and the
mustard blooms and the birds of the air come to roost.
4) Mustard does not need any cultivating, for it sprouts all by
itself, for once a mustard seed falls in fertile soil, it germinates almost at
once and begins growing. Mustard plants are not trees per se, but are bushes
though they grow between 10 and 20 feet tall. And there are few plants which
grow so large in one season as a mustard.
There is a definite
"subversive and scandalous" element
to this parable, in that the fast-growing nature of the mustard plant makes it
an "undesirable, unwelcome weed" that will present a danger to the
status quo or “business as usual.” Once a mustard seed is sown it is nearly
impossible to get rid of.
5) Jesus chooses the humble mustard seed over the image of a
mighty cedar tree to show that even though the beginnings of the Kingdom of God
are small, over time it would grow into something large and firmly rooted, in
which many would find shelter and comfort, while others would find it
detestable and even against tradition or respectable religion.
The growth of the kingdom is slow
and rooted in a tiny beginning, but it is on the move. Look at the growth of the early church, from a
small following in the first century to the 3rd century where the
mighty Roman Empire could not contain the rapid growth no matter how many
Christians it put to death.
Or consider the days of slavery
or the days of open discrimination and Jim Crow laws and segregation. Slowly
but surely the march towards freedom took place. For instance, even though many
Christians despised Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, the
movement refused to go away because the mustard seed of the kingdom and the
gospel message had taken root in people’s hearts!
The wild mustard weed is nearly
impossible to get rid of once it has infested a field, but so is the faith
of those who seem to be weeds in the kingdom of God. And not only is this
nasty weed unwelcome, but then so are the many different birds it attracts!
The wild mustard takes over the
field, thriving like the kingdom, and the mustard blooms and the birds of the
air come to nest! Just like all the "sinners" and tax collectors and
the lowly ones who came to Jesus, these birds then threaten the well planted
So the kingdom of God, like the
mustard seed, poses a healthy challenge to the society and religion and to the
hearer of the gospel: The church is not to be country club for self-righteous
saints, it is an open field for the unwanted weeds and unwelcome birds.
The kingdom of God is messy. Worldly
power is threatened by the Kingdom of God just as mustard seed threatens the
perfect garden. We as subversive mustard seeds are called to challenge our
culture, our society, and even members of our church. We, like the mustard
plant, are called to invite the undesirable, unwelcome birds that seek refuge
Yes, when we do this, we may well
be viewed with suspicion, and be a thorn in the side of those who want to
maintain the status quo, but the kingdom of God is not about “business as
usual” in a perfect “weedless” garden.
What the world considers a weed is
really the greatest image of the kingdom of God.
No matter how small we consider our efforts or our faith, it is the
beginning of great growth. When we love
our enemy and pray for him or her and when we walk with those who have lost
faith, the mustard seed blooms! When we help a neighbor, visit the sick, or pay
someone’s bills, the mustard seed blooms! When we make a meal for the lonely or
those who are grieving the death of a loved one, the mustard seed blooms!
When we defend the human dignity of each and every person, regardless of nationality or language, the mustard seed blooms! When we stand up for those in poverty who have no voice, when we defend
the rights of workers, the mustard seed blooms!
When we assist the woman with an unplanned pregnancy–both
before birth and after she gives birth, when we truly defend marriage by living
our vows and giving witness to the sacrificial love that is marriage, when we
love our children and our parents, no matter what they’ve done, the mustard
seed blooms! For in the smallest acts of love the seeds of the kingdom bloom.
Let’s pray that our hearts might
be like fertile soil ready to allow the seed of the kingdom to take root and
germinate at once!
God’s love is constant.
God is on
God’s kingdom moves forward.
The smallest seed of faith can
grow into a great faith.
Even a giant walnut tree begins
as a single walnut.