Jesus said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ Mark 4:30-32
The Old Testament contains some metaphors based on the towering cedar tree magnificently reigning over the rest of the forest. Jesus makes a point of avoiding that metaphor in favor of the mustard plant, which grows to a height of three to about ten feet. Using one of his favorite devices, Jesus catches his hearers off guard with this surprising comparison. Its pointed irony would not have been lost on them: the Kingdom is not about being the biggest and the mightiest. But there are other things that people knew about mustard plants that would have given the metaphor even more punch.
First, the Kingdom is as hearty as a mustard plant: it’s hard to kill. The subject of my previous blog was the hardiness of the faith in Haiti. The Kingdom there is proving amazingly hearty, showing itself in people’s sending their prayers of lament, praise and thanks heavenward from the midst of the rubble and the misery. Is the Kingdom that hearty in my life, I wonder, surviving every challenge and difficulty?
Second, the kingdom, like the mustard plant, intrudes where it’s not necessarily wanted. This first definition of a weed I came across seems to fit well enough. “Weed: a plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted, as in a garden.” Think of some of the hearty weeds that keep trying to take over your own garden. The Kingdom, it seems, is supposed to be troublesome like that, popping up in our life in areas where we’d rather not have it. It may show up just as I’m about to say something that would move my plans along but which would be rude or hurtful to someone. Or maybe it will intrude as I’m wondering if I really have any responsibility to help the poor people in Haiti. Some call it the voice of conscience, which is fine, too; we know that it's a sign of the presence of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is like a mustard plant -- hearty and intrusive. When I pray “Thy Kingdom come” I’d better be ready for something “undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome” to get in the way of my plans and which may prove very hard to get rid of once it takes root in my heart!