The kingdom of heaven… starts now.
John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ by saying that “the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2). In this parable, Jesus doesn’t use the future tense – it’s not, “the kingdom of heaven will be like a mustard seed…” The kingdom of heaven is now, even though we wait for it to come in a complete way in the future. Our actions contribute to the brining of the kingdom of heaven on earth.
The kingdom of heaven… starts small.
Smaller than small, actually. A mustard seed truly is “the smallest of all the seeds” (13:31); the picture to the left gives a little perspective.
Sometimes, my work toward the kingdom of heaven feels that small. So small that I wonder if it makes any difference at all.
Take recycling, for example. I have been an avid recycler in the past, but I’ve been lazy about it since we moved to a new town. We’ve been here eight months now; I’ve had plenty of time to figure out what can be recycled and where to take it. I think I’m dragging my feet because, deep down, I wonder if it makes any difference whether I recycle or not.
But the kingdom of heaven starts small… and grows huge.
From the tiniest of seeds, a mustard plant grows quickly to a height of 9 feet. In the same way, God has a habit of taking our small contribution and turning it into something grand.
One of our church members told me a story this week of how he helped a woman put her groceries in her car one day, only because it was obvious she needed help and no one else was around. What started as a small, somewhat-reluctant action turned into a big impact; the woman, it turns out, had just lost her husband and needed the smile she got more than the assistance with her load.
The kingdom of heaven is like… kudzu.
In “The Historical Jesus” John Dominic Crossan explores the life and culture of 1st century Palestine. Mustard, he points out, was sort of like a weed. It was viewed as beneficial, but also as dangerous because the plant could spread so quickly and take over a garden.
It appears that the kingdom of God is like the kudzu that covers nearly everything here in the south. It spreads with a quickness.
If you do some good deed, then yes, it’s just one deed out of a world of good that needs doing. But what if someone sees you do that good deed, and repeats it? If you pick up trash then sure, that’s a small thing, and someone will most likely throw trash down again in that spot tomorrow. But maybe some of the folks driving by see you pick up trash. Maybe they decide not to litter; maybe they decide to start picking up trash, too. If that happens – then, your good deed starts to spread.
The kingdom of heaven… attracts undesirables.
Crossan also points out that mustard, if allowed to grow in a field into a large bush, would indeed encourage “birds of the air [to] come and make nests in its branches” (13:32). But farmers tend not to want birds and other animals in their fields. Today’s farmers set up scarecrows and build fences to discourage such visitors.
Did Jesus have this in mind with his parable? That the kingdom of heaven not only starts small and grows and spreads, but also, if done right, attracts those who would otherwise be unwanted?
It seems there is no good deed so little it’s not worth doing.
So may God take your small action or contribution and grow it. May it spread like kudzu. And may it attract all sorts of people to come experience the kingdom for themselves.