Summary: A fairly short talk given at an all-age baptism service as part of a series of talks entitled Jesus The Storyteller
It was a Saturday - the Jewish Sabbath - and Jesus had just had compassion on a lady who had been crippled "for 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all" (13:11). Jesus did a wonderful thing. He placed his hands on her and healed her. She was delighted and praised God for her healing (13:13); but the ruler of the synagogue was cross. Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath - the day of rest - and he wasn’t happy at all. He was indignant! But Jesus was showing people that having compassion was more important than getting out the religious rule book to try to find out when it was (and when it wasn’t ) ok to be kind to someone; and to all those around him he told these two very short parables. He told two short stories to paint a picture, with a punchy, poignant, pertinent point.
In the time of Jesus the mustard seed represented something tiny, insignificant, almost too small to see.
And yet Jesus asks, "What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to?" And what Jesus did not say is that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed because that would mean the kingdom is small and insignificant and tiny! No, Jesus said God’s kingdom is like a mustard seed, planted in the ground, that grew into a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches (13:19). And when Jesus said that the minds of the people would be whirring away because they would be associating Jesus’s words with other words and phrases they were used to hearing.
Mustard seeds usually only grew into an 8 foot high bush but this one grows into a tree. So it is an amazing mustard seed. Something tiny and insignificant was going to grow into something unexpectedly big; and birds were going to come to perch in its branches. In the Bible Jesus knew there is an important reference to the birds of the air nestling in the branches of a tree.
In Ezekiel 17: 23 God says He will break off a tender sprig and plant it on a high mountain where it will produce branches and bear fruit [and] birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. Birds of every kind represented the nations of the whole earth, in other words you and me and people from every country and every language.
Jesus himself was planting a seed that over time would grow into a huge tree, a kingdom in which the birds of the air, people from all over the world would find shelter. The Kingdom was not to be limited to the synagogue or just to the Jewish people. It was and is for the whole world. Likewise the kingdom of God is not just for those who meet in a church building on a Sunday. It is intended to extend to the whole community. So, this place, and we as a group of people, exist to be a refuge for some, and certainly to be a sign of the kingdom that exists, for all people.
But what about the yeast that Jesus then spoke about? Back then everyone made bread at home. Everyone could picture a woman taking a huge measure of flour and then mixing in the leaven, or the yeast. The yeast has to be introduced from the outside, and once it is introduced it spreads through the whole dough. Once the yeast is mixed in it gets to work, changing and transforming.
God’s kingdom is about change and transformation for the whole world and all the people in it. Starting in a new way with Jesus God’s kingdom continues to extend, providing a place where all can come; and God’s kingdom is at work often in very quiet unseen ways like yeast working to affect a large amount of dough, changing it from the inside.
These two parables of Jesus conjure up two different ways of thinking about the Kingdom of God. It is for all people everywhere, and it is about internal change.
But of course a pile of dough can’t change itself. The yeast has to be introduced and mixed in. Orange juice and lemonade only becomes orange juice and lemonade when the two are mixed together; and so it is with us. It is very hard if not impossible to change ourselves; but when God Himself is at work inside us, changing us, and using us to change the world, that change is not only possible, but it spreads far and wide, like yeast in the dough.
This world and the people in it can be changed. By sheltering in the branches of God’s kingdom, and by accepting the introduction of yeast - God’s life-changing Spirit - into our lives, that change can and will happen.
Let’s pray together.