Sunday, April 19th
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Today I find myself increasingly aware of the many little things that people do that make life bearable during these difficult days. I am in awe of the health community that has stood in the gap for all of us, not to mention police forces and fire departments. But there are also many who don’t get the fanfare, but who are essential to our well-being – like grocery store checkers, stockers and deliverers; like truck drivers, mail personnel, and sanitation personnel; like pharmacists and drug store employees; like Hospice and funeral home workers; like so many more that even now I overlook. So many of these good people are doing what seem to be small things, but things that make huge differences for the common good. I want to be more alert for these people and find ways to express my gratitude.
Today’s parable seems to be the ideal metaphor of encouragement for this. The story of the mustard seed is remarkable in many ways. For one thing, it is a story that is told by all three of the synoptic gospel writers. Secondly, it seems to have been one of Jesus’ favorite stories, because each of the stories has a different setting, marking one way that Jesus tailored the story for that particular circumstance. Thirdly, for those who want to take the Bible literally, this story reminds us that parabolic truth comes not so much in fact, but in heart. What I mean here, is that the mustard seed is not actually the smallest of seeds, nor does it grow into very large trees. What we hear in this parable is Jesus’ knack for hyperbole. And last, but certainly not all, this story lends itself to various interpretations – allegorical and other.
One of those interpretations comes from William Barclay, the Scottish author and professor, who suggests that this parable was an encouragement for Jesus’ disciples. Barclay mentions that the disciples must have been discouraged, because they were expecting so much and so little seemed to be happening. What Jesus was doing was inspiring his followers by pointing out that great things can unfold from small beginnings.
Clarence Jordan was a gifted theologian and biblical scholar. He was also a farmer, having earned a college degree in agriculture before going on to obtain a seminary Ph.D. in Greek New Testament. The influence of Jordan’s farming knowledge on his ability to interpret and communicate Scripture is especially evident in his readings of the “seed parables.” In the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32), Jordan saw that the gospel is not sterile like an inert grain of sand, but rather is full of life and potential. The mustard seed provides a graphic image of the power of the Kingdom of God. Though small and easily overlooked, it will explode with life if given the proper treatment. And a seed, as it sprouts, has enormous power. Jordan told of planting peanuts and watching a single one push back a clod of dirt that weighed many more times than the tender shoot the seed was producing. Just as nothing could stop that seed from sprouting up, nothing can stop the Kingdom of God from growing.
Several years ago, President Barack Obama visited the Buchenwald concentration camp, where Nazis killed 56,000 people. He was accompanied by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former inmate and author, Elie Wiesel. They paused at the worst part of the detention center, the area called “Little Camp,” where so many atrocities took place. President Obama remembered aloud how Jewish adults at Buchenwald had protected and hidden the children, 900 of them. They held illegal classes for them, urged them to make plans for their futures, urged the children to think about the impossible: the dream of freedom and justice, a day when they could live and become and grow and bear fruit. Right there in the foul soil of a concentration camp a seed was planted. Thank God it grew, as evidenced in one of those children who did survive and was standing beside the president, Elie Wiesel, the living embodiment of a seed planted, a tree grown.
That experience is, in a way, reminiscent of how Mother Teresa began her orphanage in Calcutta. With resources as small as a mustard seed, she told her superiors, “I have three pennies and a dream from God to build an orphanage.” Her superiors chided gently, “You can’t build an orphanage with three pennies…with three pennies [it just isn’t possible].” “I know,” she said, smiling, “but with God and three pennies I can do anything.” The materials God uses may at times seem inadequate, but once God gets to work, the results can be extraordinary.
In these difficult times, friends, take heart. There are people doing small things that will make for enormous differences. Join me in looking and praying for them. After all, something as small as three pennies and God is enough . . .
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- This time has called all of us to recognize and appreciate those who make our daily lives possible, though their efforts are often unnoticed. Take some time to consider all of the folks who are doing things that make life better.
- Sometime, somewhere, someone planted a seed in your heart, dropped the seed of a dream of what you could be and do into the soil of your soul. Thank God for that. Thank God for them.
- Sometime, somewhere, someone planted a seed of how you might grow into God’s purposes in this time and place. Thank God for that. Thank God for them.
- Is there some small thing that you feel God planting in you? Where? How? Pray for the wisdom and intentiality to make that grow.
A poetic Guide for Prayer: Mary Oliver’s “What I Have Learned So Far”
Meditation is old and honorable, so why should I
not sit, every morning of my life, on the hillside,
looking into the shining world? Because, properly
attended to, delight, as well as havoc, is suggestion.
Can one be passionate about the just, the
ideal, the sublime, and the holy, and yet commit
to no labor in its cause? I don’t think so.
All summations have a beginning, all effect has a
story, all kindness begins with the sown seed.
Thought buds toward radiance. The gospel of
light is the crossroads of —indolence, or action.
Be ignited, or be gone