Yet when [the mustard seed] 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.’
Our first reading/s reflects on human kings and their Kingdoms. Last week the people of Israel were warned that Kings would reign over them and they would effectively become slaves for the king. They would be in bondage to their king. Never-the-less the people wanted a king. We also recognised that we like to be “kings” reigning in our own way. For some expecting their partner or ex-partner to meet their every need and freedom is unthinkable. They would rather kill the “ex” rather than release them to genuine freedom. For many of us though our kingdoms are more subtle in that we don’t think about the wages and security of the uber drivers, the meat workers supplying the supermarkets, or the people manufacturing our goods. As for those working in our nursing homes, we expect wonderful care but we don’t demand fair secure and dignified wages for the employees. It is a subtle form of Lordship because we just don’t think about it. The Good News as we heard was that God’s greatest desire is for all of us to be set free. Free from marriages that suffocate and free from unjust employment that drains us of our humanity.
In the Gospel for today Jesus invites us to imagine the Kingdom of God. Although Jesus uses parables that leave us scratching our heads. One commentator described parables as narrative time bombs. Another commentor said, They’re big, cosmic jokes, intended to stretch our imaginations far beyond any place we’d take them on our own.
The parable is memorable and sits there until we are able to perceive the deeper meanings that it invites us into.
Let’s explore the Parable of the Mustard seed.
Mustard seeds have the beautiful quality of being small but with the ability to spread and take over a field—in Mark’s text, sprawling enough to include shade for all those gentile birds of heaven, too!
The mustard plant is short, scruffy, and small; but it is also in Mark’s sanctified imagination sprawling and sufficient for shade—just like this mysterious Kingdom of God.
So effectively the mustard plant is a weed a bit like the prickly pair that people planted as ornamental plants in their garden. Once in the garden they take over and as we discovered in Australia they make great land completely unusable. So why does Jesus use an image of a short, scruffy, persistent weed to give us insights into the Kingdom of God. I guess if we think about the small band of followers that that gathered with Jesus at his last Supper you see a scruffy insignificant bunch of people. Even after the resurrection and having experienced the breath of God burning within them they were still a relatively small band scruffy but now persistent and growing.
So is that it, the message seems to be God can use a small scruffy bunch of people to grow the new community of God’s family. And I guess the question for us to ponder is: does that mean God can use us, yes even us, to grow the kingdom?
But may be before we answer that we need to perhaps change the name from Kingdom to something more appropriate. After all Jesus has turned on its head the notion of Kingdom. Kingdom’s like those of Saul and David, like the kingdoms of Pharaoh and the Roman Emperor are always based on power, oppression, and manipulation. Violence is at the core of those kingdoms. We see it today in China in the way they treat the Uyghur People. The powerless are put to work, the insignificant are crushed. But this new kingdom, that Jesus speaks of, is made up of the weedy, the insignificant and the scruffy and even the foreigner is welcomed, like birds to shelter and nest. Some scholars suggest Kin-dom emphasising relations over power. Other scholars use phrases like community of love emphasising the unity of purpose and the core value of love.
So, let’s return to the question can our Lord use us? Some might describe our parish community as small, insignificant, and scruffy! Can we be that mustard seed growing, almost unnoticed to begin with, growing to become a community with love as our core value. In the past when I have encouraged us to be a community, I have stressed the importance of forgiving one another and reconciling with each other. I know that is difficult and it make take years before the commitment to loving forgiveness and reconciliation is normal in our Parish Community. I have also stressed the importance of encouraging and building each other up. I guess it will take a good while before the temptation to find fault is replaced by the conscious determined effort to encourage. A loving community, as I have noted before seeks to bless one another and to bless those outside the community. Listening for each other’s needs and seeking to meet those needs where possible. Popping in to visit when we haven’t seen someone at church or sending a card in times of sickness all express our love and desire to bless.
Today I want to challenge us to embrace something many of us find difficult. I had a conversation with someone recently. The man told me how he had stopped one evening to help a woman who was clearly bleeding to death. His automatic response was to step in and start First Aid. As he struggled to stem the bleeding, he called out for others to help. He told me he was shocked by the numbers of people who walked by without offering to help. Fortunately, a young man did offer assistance and happily gave up his tee-shirt to help stem the bleeding. And a young woman, a nurse also came to the rescue. Together the three of them helped save her life. They were all glad to hand over to the Ambos when they arrived.
The person who told me his story wondered as we all might, why did others walk by? Did all of them not want to get involved? Where they too frightened? Did they feel to ignorant of first aid to volunteer? We will never know. I am reminded of an account of the early church during time of sickness in Rome. The Christians went where others would not go, ministering to the sick regardless of their status in life. Non-Christians were deeply touched by this compassion.
So my challenge, my invitation is if we are to be a loving community we need to pray for the courage to step out of our comfort zone when others are in need. It may mean getting involved when we would prefer not to. It may mean brushing up on our First Aid skills so we can help. Or perhaps learning more about Mental Illness or Domestic Violence so that we can offer basic ministries akin to first aid. Let’s begin to dream that we might become like that early Christian community reaching out where others fear to tread. Let’s dream of being the mustard bush growing where others think of it as a pest but bringing deep healing and life-giving blessing.
Let us pray, Heavenly father help us to imagine the loving community you desire. Lord Jesus give us courage to be that community. Holy Spirit fill our hearts with reckless love. Amen.