Musing on Mark 4, 26 to 34
This week we have 2 of Jesus parables of the Kingdom. What do you make of the first (26-29)? Is God the sower and reaper? Is the ground us? What represents the kingdom of God?
Or is it simple illustrating that the kingdom of God is about the mysterious power of the seed itself, germinating in the ground and growing away all by itself?
The parable of the mustard seed is familiar enough but what is it telling us about the kingdom of God?
Mustard had to be carefully controlled. From small seeds it grew wild and invasive and could take over your garden! A good image of the kingdom of God?
It’s black seeds are popular with the birds! (An image of the kingdom of God providing for its populations, and for all birds, the clean and the unclean scavengers? (no scarecrows in Gods kingdom!)
Left alone it can grow to around 3m high – modest but everywhere! Did people laugh when they heard Jesus refer to God’s kingdom as a kingly shrub? Did the religious authorities think it blasphemous?
Jesus talk of the kingdom of heaven as a mustard bush would draw to his hearers minds the traditional image for the kingdom of Israel and the realm of kings of a cedar of Lebanon, very tall, strong, noble, powerful. He is also resonating with Ezekiel 17:23-24 and Daniel 4:19f, prophecies of the doom of the powerful. Is Jesus ridiculing the triumphant expectations that expected the Messiah to return Israel to be the world power it never was?
Is Jesus using the image of the invasiveness of mustard to suggest his kingdom is like a subtle contagion? (As persecutors of the early church (and ever since) found, the harder you try to eradicate it the more it spread).
Also mustard has always been know for its fiery potency. In the days before the Roman Empire it was a symbol of power –
‘Darius, king of the Persians, invaded Europe and was met by Alexander the Great. Darius sent Alexander a bag of sesame seeds as a taunt, indicating by the seeds the vast multitude of soldiers he had. Alexander sent back a bag of mustard seed with the message, “You may be many, but we are powerful. We can handle you.” And they did.’ (Jesus for President: Shane Claiborne/Chris Haw 2008 The Simple Way – I’ve also drawn some of the explanations of the parables from this book).
The power of mustard seed is released when it’s crushed – Jesus prophecy of his death and resurrection, of the church?
Mustard was also know for healing, used as a chest rub to ease breathing.
In just a few verses Jesus gives us quite a picture of the kingdom to which we now belong –
Mysterious, uncontrollable, invasive, providing, modest, potent, healing, welcoming, inclusive.
How can we, as individuals and as church, be a mustard plant?
(PS: you’ll have to make up your own muses next week – I hope to be back in 2 weeks time)