The kingdom of God is like seeds that grow while we sleep and weeds that invade the garden.
– a paraphrase of Mark 4:26-34
Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello said, “The shortest distance between a human and truth is a story.” Arguments rarely do anything but invest us more deeply into our little “truths.” We almost never see Jesus being sucked into a debate. Instead he tells stories and riddles that confuse and disorient his hearers. They are like time-release capsules that work on us from the inside-out. They frustrate our analytical left brain long enough for our right brain to breathe and see things from a new perspective.
In this week’s text Jesus tells two parables that lift up the twin graces of the Kingdom of God – radical abundance and radical acceptance.
In the first parable Jesus reminds us of the most elemental truth about the Kingdom of God, a truth that mirrors creation itself. There is a wild fecundity inscribed into the DNA of creation. Creation always and everywhere calls forth life, even while we sleep. The Kingdom of God, like creation itself, relentlessly comes into being – so relax! Take a breath. Take a nap. Interestingly, there are no active verbs in the Gospels associated with the Kingdom of God. All verbs related to the Kingdom are passive. Jesus invites us to notice, accept, receive, and bear witness to the Kingdom, but nowhere does he tell us to build it. We can’t! It already exists and that’s the point. Our job is to see it – to harvest and harness its goodness.
This is especially good news for justice workers who can easily burn themselves (and others) out trying to “build” the Kingdom for the “least of these.” As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Yes, Christ is the deepest impulse in creation, calling all things toward wholeness! The heavy lifting of the Kingdom is on God’s shoulders, not ours. This is why we can trust what others have called “spiritual evolution.” If we can’t see this, I don’t know how we work for justice and remain sane.
The second parable of the mustard seed reveals the scandalous grace of the Kingdom. It subverts the closed and controlling moral systems that we create in the name of God to protect the in-group from the out-group, dividing the clean from the unclean and eliminating anyone or anything not on our team.
Unfortunately, in a big-box culture like ours where size matters, the parable of the mustard seed is often interpreted as a parable about growth; what starts as a small seed becomes the largest of trees. However, if growth was his main point, Jesus chose a poor metaphor. A fully grown mustard tree is only about six feet. The farmers in the crowd would have quickly recognized the parable was not about bigness. The mustard tree is a weed no farmer wants in the garden. It is an unclean shrub that farmers spend their days trying to eliminate. Small mustard seeds grow into large weeds that attract birds that in turn eat the good seeds the farmer spends his whole life trying to cultivate and protect.
We serve among the mustard seeds that our world is eager to eliminate. But Jesus reveals that these weeds are at the center of God’s kingdom! That which we are so eager to eliminate and judge holds the key to our salvation… always!
Radical abundance, radical acceptance, these are the twin graces of God’s Kingdom.