The kingdom of God is like a weed…

16 Jun, 2024

By The Rev’d Andrew Coyle

The 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 | 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 | Mark 4:26-34

In our gospel reading this morning Jesus offers us two parables of what the kingdom of God is like.

First, he says, the kingdom of God is, 

“as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

And then he goes on to say, the kingdom of God, 

“is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

Both parables are about sowing seeds.

But in the first one it seems that Jesus is telling us that it is the way of the kingdom to grow and develop in ways that are unseen and mysterious but which nevertheless result in life and sustenance.

We are not privy to all that goes on beneath the soil, but we nonetheless reap the harvest that follows and that harvest nourishes us and sustains us. 

In the second parable, the one about the mustard seed, Jesus takes that understanding of this process of growth that is largely invisible to us and adds a further twist.

In Jesus’ world, mustard was a weed, dreaded by farmers.

No one would deliberately sow it in a field because while it starts out as a tiny seed, it’s not long before it has taken over your field or garden and it seems impossible to get rid of.

So mustard is something that you want to contain, not something that you want to see spread.

Why then would Jesus compare the kingdom of God to such a pernicious weed?

We might get the idea that the kingdom of God becomes present to us in ways that we cannot see or explain.

We cannot always observe and chart the growth of the kingdom among us.

But how is the kingdom of God like a weed?

Well, weeds have a tendency to pop up and spread in ways that challenge our capacity to control them.

And that is what God is like!

Popping up anywhere and everywhere, persistent, tenacious,

arising in the midst of order and disorder alike,

neither bound nor contained by the shape of our lives,

always active, always acting in whatever circumstances we find ourselves to bring us hope and healing.

And there is perhaps some sly humour in Jesus words as well.

The mustard seed is tiny but it grows into the biggest of shrubs.

And we might want to notice that there is certainly a big difference in size and scale between the tiny mustard seed and the much larger plant that it grows into.

But I think it would also be fair to say that a shrub is hardly the most spectacular image of God’s kingdom.

Surely, if you really wanted to make a statement you might go for something a little loftier than a shrub, something altogether grander like a mighty towering tree, which is certainly an image that was used in biblical times to refer to God’s kingdom. 

But it seems like Jesus wants to say something else.

For Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is like a weed that grows into a shrub.

So he chooses the weedy characteristics of pervasiveness, hardiness, stubbornness and persistence to describe God’s activity in the world rather than the awe-inspiring grandeur and lofty aloofness of a tall cedar tree.

And there is something also in that image of the kingdom of God as a weed that suggests that the kingdom of God makes itself known in some everyday mundane kinds of ways.

Perhaps, Jesus wants to tell us that it is in the small things as well as in the large that the kingdom of God can be made known to us. 

The mustard seed is small, but it grows into something that is hard to contain, hard to control.

It seems to have an effect out of proportion to its size.

And I think the same is true in our lives.

Our small and everyday actions can contribute to something much bigger.

The small things we do – what we give to and receive from one another – they can have an effect out of all proportion to their size.

Our faithfulness, 

our care, our concern, 

our acts of hospitality and kindness and forgiveness, 

our willingness to listen compassionately to those around us,

our willingness to accompany each other though the joys and travails of life, 

our willingness to meet together not only in worship but in all that we do to care for the fabric of this community where we gather and the wider community of which we are a part… 

All these things which may feel small to us, at least in the larger scheme of things, have the capacity have to take root and spread within our lives and within our community.

All these things have the capacity to show us the kingdom of God and to be the means by which we experience God’s love and by which God’s love is made known to others.

The kingdom of God is like a seed that is sown.

We may not see the ways in which it grows and develops but it does so nonetheless.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, tiny, but something that grows beyond expectations, stubborn, persistent, hardy, pervasive getting into every nook and cranny of our lives. 

Whether we or not we see all the results of all our labour, whether or not we can measure the effect of what we do, we trust that “in the Lord our labour is not in vain”.

And so we are invited not only to continue to serve one another with love and care but also to do these things in hope,

knowing and trusting that our faithfulness will bear fruit in God’s good purpose. 

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