I’ve been reading through Richard Hays’ new book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels. This is a wonderful book about how the gospel writers were so formed by the Old Testament texts that they continually “echo” them in their writings. With that, Hays points out the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Jesus proclaims that the kingdom of God is like a small mustard seed that sprouts into a large shrub in which the birds of the air come to rest. This appears to be an allusion to Ezekiel 17:23
On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
Sounds similar to the mustard shrub from Mark 4 when Jesus says, “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Except, there is one striking difference. The mustard shrub isn’t a noble cedar by any stretch. In fact, my understanding is that the ancient Jews would never plant a mustard seed in their garden because while it was a useful plant, it would take over and you couldn’t get rid of it. So it grew in the wild. Kind of like the Kingdom of God I guess.
I’ve been preaching through Luke with my church, and it is fascinating how surprising the kingdom of God is. God comes into the world in the man Jesus, and he’s born to an insignificant poor family in an insignificant town called Bethlehem. The only reason we know that town is because Jesus was born there. When the Messiah is born, he’s placed in a feeding trough and shepherds come to worship him. Along with shepherds come outsiders, magi. The Jewish elite (their “theologians” if you will) don’t recognize God’s Messiah, tax collectors and sinners become his friends and followers, and he goes to the broken and marginalized to heal them and bring good news. He’s not wiping out Rome with an army, he’s healing crippled women on the Sabbath in the synagogue.
The gospel stories say many things, and one of those is that the kingdom of God is surprising. It’s not found in the places you often expect. It’s not in the palaces of Rome, or in the seminaries of Jerusalem. It’s among the hurting, the small, the broken, the unlikely, the sinners, tax collectors, the Roman centurions. It’s not in the expected noble, towering cedar. It’s found in tiny unlikely mustard seeds.
We go about our daily lives, whether we realize it or not, searching for God. We are looking for meaning, purpose, value, etc. The problem is, we often look in places that you would think to find a kingdom and a god, like money, power, nobility, and the like. But do we ever go about our days attentive to the surprising places we may find God? When we think of joining God in his mission of restoring and setting all things right, do we only think of the “big” scenarios? Or do we pay attention to the often overlooked “small” moments.
In the interaction with a cashier at a routine checkout line at the grocery store. In the face of the poor man outside the gas station. In the eyes of our children. Among the awkward kid in class no one else will talk to. With that obnoxious person that interrupted us. With the difficult student in our class that drives us nuts.
The kingdom of God is often in surprising places. And if we want to join Jesus in his mission of restoring sight to the blind and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, then maybe we need to start paying attention to those small and seemingly insignificant moments throughout our day.
Maybe we need to quit looking at giant cedars and start noticing tiny mustard seeds.