Sunday August 31, 2008 | Seth McCoy
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches."
Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough."
Jesus described God’s Kingdom like a mustard seed and like yeast. What did he mean? And what do Jesus’ unusual parables have to do with our lives today? When we consider how his original audience would have heard Jesus’ words, it helps us discover just how challenging his teachings are for us today.
Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God, which can be summarized as God’s dream for the universe. One of the ways that Jesus taught people about the Kingdom was through parables, which are figurative stories or metaphors that indirectly define the nature of the Kingdom.
In order to understand what Jesus was saying through the parables, we need to put ourselves in the context of a first century Jewish persons. Jesus’ audience had a specific understanding of the nature of the Kingdom of God, but it did not line up with the God’s dream for the universe that Jesus announced. They had forgotten God’s dream. They had assumed that God would come and establish His Kingdom with majestic power. It would symbolically looks like the planting of a great cedar tree where great birds could nest.
The parable of the mustard seed provides a different symbolic way of understanding the Kingdom. Instead of a great cedar being dropped from the sky, the Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed. In the first century, this would have been an unusual image because a mustard plant was a weed that no gardener would have wanted in his garden. While it began small, it would take over a garden if left to itself.
The Kingdom comes in ways that we don’t expect. It develops slowly and it grows according the pattern of the cross. The way of the cross is the way of suffering. We like Jesus are invited to go into the ground and die. Redemptive suffering is the kind of suffering we are called to seek out.