A pest as potential – Monday, 17th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 13:31-35
Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew highlights seven parables of Jesus. The Gospel of today focuses on the third and the fourth parable that Matthew records for us. Both these parables focus on the expansion of the kingdom of God albeit in different ways. In the first case the Kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed and in the second to a yeast. In the first case the growth in the kingdom is visible, in the second it is invisible. God’s dominion is seen in unexpected and even ‘scandalous’ ways.
Clearly the kingdom of heaven cannot be stereotyped or put into a casting mould. The kingdom is dynamic and as much as we would like to have it packaged in bows and buntings, it is challenging and complex. It is for this reason that Jesus does not define what the kingdom of God is but compares it to what it is like. He is clear each time speaks of the kingdom when he says, “the kingdom of heaven is LIKE,” for the kingdom is this, yet much more.
The third and fourth parable present the kingdom’s growth in unexpected ways. God, like his kingdom is dynamic and beyond the ‘logical’ expectations of humankind. In speaking of a kingdom one would tend to use superlatives, a lowly mustard seed or some rotting leaven would be the last thing on our mind. Yet that is what Jesus chose as an example to give to us.
The mustard bush would by no stretch of imagination grow to be a ‘large tree’ that Jesus describes and that is the point that Jesus wants to make. Everything is possible with God. The mustard bush was considered a garden pest at the the time of Jesus. You can imagine the shock when Jesus chose a ‘pest’ as potential. Jesus does not want us to rule out the means or the measure that he can work with. If he can use, what was considered a small garden pest to become the tree that could shelter in its branches, then imagine how God can use you and me to bring about his kingdom.
Key to the internalisation of this text is our own ability to let God mould and make his kingdom the way he ordained it; with the elements he choses. This also demands our surrender to his will and his way. This is perhaps the hardest part for us; to let go and to let God. We would tend to scoff at the ‘garden pest’ that God chose and would rather pick the attractive ‘fruit that Eve was draw to.’ Surrender to God’s will for his kingdom is perhaps the largest challenge for the clergy who must be attuned to the voice of God even when there is a temptation to jump into the driving seat and render God unemployed.
But such is the kingdom, that God has the power to take something negative and use it for the growth of his kingdom. Leaven or yeast was viewed by the Jew as a symbol of corruption. In the Mosaic Law, leaven represents sin or corruption. The law forbade grain offerings made with leaven (Leviticus 2:11). In fact, no yeast was allowed to be burned on the altar in any sacrifice. The grain offering for Aaron and his sons (the priests) was also not to contain leaven and was to be eaten in a holy place (Leviticus 6:17).
Yet it is this negative and corrupting influence that becomes the agent of growth in God’s kingdom. It is not that God deliberately chooses a negative or corrupting influence to build his kingdom but that in spite of such elements his kingdom will grow.
For me this is a personal teaching; a moment of God speaking to me. Our nation has been a troubled one, even more with the ruling dispensation deliberately provoking the secular fabric of this nation. But then again, dictatorship in its many disguises is on the rise while democracy has taken a beating worldwide. In India the state of Manipur has reached a war like situation with the state machinery aiding and abetting the violence.
Even men and women of faith will find themselves asking where is God? Why has he abandoned his kingdom? Why does he let evil men rule and reign? Why are the mighty let loose and the weak wrecked into the earth? God reminds us that the kingdom is his; he is in charge. It is he who can turn a corrupting symbol and work mysteriously. Let us let God be God.