Mustard, yeast, and the Kingdom of God.
Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God.
It was one of his favourite topics, but he didn’t describe the conquering, mighty kingdom his followers were maybe expecting. Instead, his idea of the kingdom included among other things, two rather bizarre metaphors: mustard and yeast.
He told another parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its branches.”
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through all the dough.” (Matthew 13:31-33)
A mustard seed is hardly an inspiring image of a kingdom. It’s a small seed, difficult to even hold between two fingers. Imagine, if you will, a believer in a hostile country, struggling to survive because of their faith. It must often seem that the kingdom they are a part of truly is the size of a mustard seed. It can sometimes seem hopeless – how can a handful of undercover Christ followers make a difference when they’re under pressure from an authoritarian government or a strict community?
But the seed presents a dramatic image. Once planted, it sprouts into a massive leafy tower, large enough for birds to nest. The corresponding imagery of God’s kingdom on earth is clear: the “planting” of even one person’s life for the kingdom of God can see incredible results.
But it’s also interesting to peel back the different layers of the parable and see things that may not be immediately obvious to a 21st century audience. Jesus, addressing Jews, spoke of birds coming to nest in the kingdom of God – birds were often used as a reference to Gentiles, the people of the world. In Jesus’ view of the kingdom, it was not just the Jews who would rest in the branches, but the people of all the world: surely a shock to those who expected him to establish a kingdom like that of their ancient king David.
And then Jesus goes a step further and continues to confound his listeners: he addresses the women. After comparing the kingdom to sowing seeds – typically a male job, working in the fields – he takes the same idea and frames it in such a way that the women listening know exactly what he’s talking about.
This isn’t the only time he does so either. When Jesus talks about the kingdom of God, he often uses multiple metaphors – one that the men might understand, and then another that the women will. “Sisters,” he’s saying “I want you to know that you have just as much inheritance in the kingdom as your brothers do.” In first century Palestine, this was unheard of.
But Christ’s point is clear. The Kingdom of God on earth, though it begins small, will grow and reach out to welcome anyone who wishes to join.
Many years ago, Brother Andrew saw this exact result from his work of smuggling Bibles. Just one Bible given to a church in need gave them better access to God’s word, allowing them to grow and disciple other believers. As the church grew, they were able to become a light for Christ. That was his vision for the persecuted church. Today, Open Doors continues to seek to strengthen the persecuted church so that the kingdom of God can continue to grow.
That kingdom might not look like much on the outside. It might only look like a small seed, or a bit of yeast, or a faithful pastor in Communist Europe, or an African widow raising her children to follow God. But no matter how small it is at the beginning, we know that the ultimate end in the kingdom of God will be the most glorious result we can imagine.