A mustard tree

Based on our Sunday morning sermon, 7th August 2011:

He presented another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It’s the smallest of all the seeds, but when grown, it’s taller than the vegetables and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the sky come and nest in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32 (HCSB)

Why should the Kingdom of Heaven be like a mustard seed that is planted and allowed to become fully grown?  Mustard, to us, is useful as a seed – crushed and turned into a condiment – or as a salad item, allowed to grow for less than a fortnight before being clipped.   But Jesus chooses to focus on the seed as a means to something much, much bigger: a plant that outgrows all similar herbs until it becomes a tree.

A mustard tree is, on the face of it, a poor  picture of something that should surely be seen as big, strong and glorious.  Shouldn’t the Kingdom of Heaven be likened to an oak tree, or perhaps the cedar trees of Lebanon, prized by Solomon and his temple builders for their size and strength?  Why should Jesus choose a plant that, in its fully-grown state, is a bit haphazard, a bit gnarly, with a tendency to spread itself untidily across the ground rather than thrusting upwards into the blue?

Well, the Kingdom of Heaven, here on Earth, is comprised of people with all their failings and imperfections.  We have a tendency to spread ourselves about, live untidily and allow the gravity of the situations we find ourselves in overcome our desire to reach up and touch heaven.

Despite these failings, the flawed little mustard tree can still do something that a mighty oak or a cedar can, and something a mustard seed, or a tasty mustard sprout, cannot: it can provide shelter.

In Matthew 13:32, the birds of the skies come to the mustard tree and make their nests in it.  Likewise, as members of the Kingdom that’s like that seed grown into a tree, we must make room in our lives for those that are seeking peace, shelter and safety.  A mustard seed or a mustard sprout might gladden your own heart with its spicy taste.  A mustard tree might just be someone else’s shelter from exhaustion, fear or distress.

The Kingdom we belong to is to be one that has room enough for outsiders who need peace or a safe refuge.  It might be untidy.  It might get a bit noisy.  Especially if a family of rooks moved into the tree.  But that is what the Kingdom is for.  We don’t remain on Earth to satisfy our own hearts with tasty salads and spicy condiments.  We remain on Earth in order to draw lost souls into the same peace that we ourselves discovered, on the day we first believed.

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