He said therefore, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’ And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’
What is the kingdom of God like? If you lived in Judaea at the time of Jesus, and were Jewish, you might have a notion of religious authority, order kept by demanding that the Law of God is observed to the letter. If you were a Roman soldier posted to Judaea, you would enforce Roman Law on the local populace – pax romana, was based on brutal conquest followed by oppression of the conquered – that’s how the Roman Empire operated. It was all about power.
God’s rule is different, Jesus says. It’s not about power – it’s about something much bigger. Which starts small. Mustard seed. Yeast. Ordinary things found in fields or gardens or kitchens. The tiny mustard seed grows big enough to support the nesting birds – it only needs “someone” to plant the seed and tend the young plant. The yeast causes 69 litres* of flour to rise, and many people eat. It only needs “a woman” to mix the dough, knead and bake it. The reign of God is about the nurturing and blossoming of all creation in the present and in time to come.
Jesus moves on towards Jerusalem teaching the message of God’s hidden kingdom which works through human hands and hearts. “Will only a few be saved?” someone asks – thinking perhaps that such an “ordinary” kind of kingdom is not what s/he’d hoped for. “Try, but the door is narrow” – is the surprising answer! “And once the door is shut you will not be recognised.” The feast of the Kingdom of God is for those who follow God’s way – patriarchs and prophets and makers of bread and growers of mustard and many more. Next time you enjoy a church supper, or a meal with friends or family, you are eating in the Kingdom of God which was and is and will come.
*See footnote New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV) p1896
God of all creation you call us to share in your work of making and growing and praying for a world where all may flourish, and your will of peace and justice, healing and joy be not only prayed for, but done. Show us where you need us to tend new growth to feed the hungry to welcome the stranger and build your Kingdom as Jesus taught us on earth as it is in heaven. Amen
The Rev’d Heather Pencavel, Retired Minister, member of Thornbury URC in Gloucestershire