Several years ago, I had the privilege of presenting the sermon one Sunday in our local parish. The text was Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed, and I believe at that time that I talked a lot about the Lord’s prayer and “thy kingdom come,” and how the realities of the prayer would change everything. But since then, I have not been able to free myself from that little parable. It stuck in my craw.

Here’s the text, copied from the oremus Bible browser:

Mark 4:26-34

He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”

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.”

With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

The first thing that might strike you is that the bit about the mustard seed makes no sense. Have you ever eaten mustard greens? Maybe, because the seed actually yields field greens that are good boiled or stir fried, preferably with a good chunk of fat in either case. They are not, in any case, a tree. But here’s what mustard plants are: an invasive species. {Read more about mustard cultivation here.}

That is the aspect of the parable that sticks with me most. One little seed makes a bushy green plant that is great for the soil and the vineyard, good to eat in its entirety, producing a great many seeds from the one plant, and those seeds will burst out and take over an area at the slightest provocation, growing in most soil types.

What I have experienced of grace and the way God heals us suggests to me that God works to make us whole anywhere grace can get the slightest foothold. That tiny mustard seed is adept at slipping into the cracks. So, if a homeless meth head falls down before an image of the divine, feeling loved at last, or maybe just gets surprised by a hot meal that doesn’t hurt his fragile teeth, I consider that to be a cause for gratitude. It’s a sign of the Kingdom coming on earth. Or if a suicidal pain killer addict convinces her fellow psych unit patients to put on a makeshift Eucharist with the bread and juice they get on the ward, I’m not going to judge them. Or when an abused teenager cries herself to sleep each night, praying, “Please” against the tide of malice that would destroy her, and she somehow finds that her abusers’ portrait of herself rings false, that’s a place where God is seeping in. This God I follow has a prior claim on us, a claim where He says we’re good, and the Christian story is the story of God getting in our faces to say so, again and again, until we act it.

That’s why God’s way is like a dang old weed. You can’t control where God is going to show mercy and grace, and that’s a good thing. It means you have to give up judging other people, since God sees fit to grow in their lives, too. And it means – thankfully – that God can grow in whatever mess we’ve gotten ourselves into as well.

That’s my take. What are your thoughts?