The faith equation (Belief + Action = Faith) is instrumental in my continuing study and effort to rediscover the teachings of Jesus through an alternate lens. What does it truly mean to be a follower of his in our current Drive-Thru and Microwave world of immediate convenience and satisfaction? What does it look like? Jesus taught that he was spreading the ‘Kingdom of God.’ What did he mean? Did he mean that if we are good upstanding citizens, then one day we will die and enter another kingdom? Did he refer to something tangible on earth?
Jesus made it obvious (then was subsequently kicked out of church) that his arrival would culminate in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. He was nearly thrown from a cliff by an angry mob over making that claim, but we act like it is a future [not present] reality. Some of the most misunderstood parables of Jesus are found in Matthew 13 regarding the establishment of what Jesus refers to as ‘The Kingdom of God.’ In order to build a firm foundation of ‘The Basics’ of Jesus’ teachings about faith, one must understand the concept of how it spreads. Understanding how the kingdom expands will shed light on what our lifestyle should be (when I refer to ‘God’s kingdom’ think to yourself ‘God’s system’ or ‘way of living’). Specifically, I’m going to focus on the parable of the mustard seed.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
Out of all the explanations I’ve heard from speakers regarding this parable, it never quite made sense to me how a mustard tree represents the kingdom of heaven. Explanations of how a minute seed can take root and grow into a mighty tree with deep roots were often used as an allegory to how the church became established on earth. rooted in Jesus, and grew into something great that provides rest for others. While it’s a beautiful analogy, it’s not an accurate picture of what Jesus is describing in Matthew 13. It’s especially inaccurate, considering one little fact… a mustard plant is more like a weed than a tree.
Much of the Protestant church struggles from a historical and generational transfer deficiency that results in losing the proper context/understanding of a teaching. Wisdom that is gained from understanding history and handed-down insight is invaluable to viewing a more complete image of Jesus.
First, to understand how God’s kingdom on earth is like a mustard seed, we must have a little knowledge about what Jesus’ listeners would have already understood… mustard plants.
Mustard plants are a nuisance. They spread like weeds. Even in a controlled environment, they are difficult to contain. The plants grow larger than normal vegetable/herb plants that would be in a garden; so densely that when they mature the branches become tangled with each other, resulting in an attractive potential home for birds… another nuisance when it comes to gardening. Mustard plants spread quickly and easily, they stick to everything.
“produces large numbers of seeds that can be transported by humans on boots, clothing, hair, by mowing, in automobiles and trains.”
-Michigan State University
All one has to do is bump into a mature plant to become a transporter of the seed.
“is one of the few non-native herbs capable of invading and dominating forest understory communities. Its tolerance of low light levels, coupled with its high seed production and ability to spread rapidly”
-Michigan State University
The mustard plant is able to survive less than ideal situations, then spread rapidly… taking over the entire area and changing the ecosystem.
“It readily invades forested habitats where it can displace native plants, compete with timber species regeneration, alter soil composition and structure, impact natural associations between plants and fungi, and result in cascading ecosystem impacts.”
-Michigan State University
So, back to the parable Jesus gave about how God’s kingdom is established on earth…
The kingdom starts small. Maybe a single person decides to follow Jesus, making His will their priority. Rather than living selfishly this person begins to care for those who have no means by which to return the favor, living in community as if His kingdom is now; giving of their individual excess to meet their collective needs. Their new found Faith (belief + action) begins to impact those in the community/city/town around them. Before long their numbers grow and begin to effect the community in a larger scale. Soon, the native mindset of a materialistic, self-centered society melts away for those who choose to be a part. People who happen across the folks living this way begin to think to themselves ‘Maybe I can experience that too’ and become a carrier of the kingdom to a new location. Before long the kingdom pops up in pockets all over, each one with it’s own unique personality… but similar in mindset. All because a single person chose to believe that Jesus teachings are true enough to take action.
The kingdom Jesus spoke about is organic, it is not a program or slick presentation. It does not need an executive, associate, or worship pastor to survive and flourish (although it may have those things)… it simply needs a person willing to actually practice faith (belief + action) in Jesus teachings and inspire others to join in.
I imagine if Jesus were telling this parable today… he would probably use the example of a computer virus that takes over a system and gives control to its creator.
When people come into contact with a community such as this (because we can’t be a kingdom of one) they will either hate what they see, not understand it, or want to be a part of it. Many (like the rich young man) will like every aspect of it, except the idea of sacrificing their comfort for another person. They would rather have an image of being exceptional, rather than actually live in an exceptional manner.
Reiterating from my previous post…
Jesus said up front that he was asking a lot from those willing to follow his teachings. It’s referred to as ‘considering the cost’ of what you’ll give up versus what you will gain. Jesus didn’t teach a cheap faith… Jesus called his followers to be different… to go against the norm. A faith that allows the status quo… is simply not the faith that Jesus taught.