“He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It 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.”
– Mark 4:30-32
When I saw this passage in the Lectionary this month I was immediately brought back to the time I was invited to speak at Chapel at my Alma Mater in 2009. Nicole and I had lived at Joshua Station for only a few months when my good friend and Chaplain at the time asked if I would be willing to speak about the Kingdom of God. The timing was perfect, because I had just finished a book by Shane Claiborne that dug into the parable of the Mustard Seed and unpacked the ridiculousness of that illustration in regard to God’s Kingdom. His reflection had enough of an impact on us that Nicole decided to get a Mustard Plant tattooed on her arm a few weeks before the chapel engagement.
After I read the passage I went back to my office and pulled up the audio of that chapel service. After getting over the embarrassment (even though I was listening alone) of hearing myself stutter over and over again, I found it fun to hear what I had to say about this parable before the experiences that filled the next 6 years.
I am just as impacted now as I was then by Jesus’ use of this illustration when He was teaching the people about God’s Kingdom. The brief synopsis of my message from that chapel is this: Any half decent Jewish farmer would have cringed at Jesus’ use of this illustration, because the mustard plant was a wild and nearly unstoppable weed that would completely overtake your garden if it found its way in there. The idea that someone would plant it intentionally is laughable. The end result of this planting of the mustard seed, as told by Jesus, is that the plant now overshadows everything else in the garden and has even become a home for all the pesky birds that would have certainly finished off whatever the weeds didn’t already destroy.
That’s Jesus’ understanding of God’s Kingdom. You have your pretty little garden, filled with all the plants that you think are important and then God’s Kingdom overshadows, chokes out, and invites birds to screw the whole thing up.
The beauty of it all is that our gardens are usually filled with things that don’t really matter all that much when compared to the things God wants us to be concerned with. If we are clumsy enough to allow God to plant that seed in our garden, we rarely look back and say “Oh crap! I should never have let that happen!” The road that follows is rarely easy, but it is almost always transformative.
Places like Joshua Station are unique in that they almost intentionally keep all the quiet pretty flowers out of the garden that is this Transformational community. Pretty gardens are often fenced off with signs warning against letting your kids walk through it or your dog pee on it. The point is to look good and the understanding is that if you don’t keep the birds and weeds out, the show will be over. The weed infested gardens in Denver are not as pretty as the perfectly manicured ones, but they become much more of a community hub for folks who often find themselves on the margins of our society.
Joshua Station is like that to me. Spend one night at Kids Club and you will immediately shed the perfectly controlled and manicured garden image. In fact, chaos and confusion are decent words for those nights. But I have yet to meet a volunteer group that isn’t deeply impacted by the beauty that exists here. That’s a deep truth about weed infested gardens; visitors to our garden will often carry those seeds back into their own. Perhaps that’s why Jesus was painting this illustration as a positive one. The transformation, healing, and deep acceptance of the weed infested garden is extremely contagious and threatens to transform the manicured gardens of all who pass through—thus the Godly Kingdom of weeds and birds grows.
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