Our society these days seems obsessed with the religion of self-reliance. The individual is most important, and is only a success when he or she has the power to take care of themselves. There is a DIY Network which has shows with titles such as; Indoors Out; Desperate Landscapes; Dream House Log Cabin; I Hate My Kitchen; Man Caves; Marriage Under Construction; and Sweat Equity. Along with this, if you want to know how to do something you can log on to youtube.com and find a video with directions. This phenomenon is not new of course, just gone global, I remember growing up with Popular Mechanics; Time Life books on home maintenance; and Wok with Yan. To be able to say that you renovated your home, your car, your life on your own, without the experts, is the ultimate point of pride. If we follow this reasoning, then if we are interested in the Kingdom of God (Heaven) coming then it is time we figured out how to do it ourselves, right?
Is the Kingdom of Heaven a DIY project for the church and its members?
Let’s look at some parables about the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tries to enlighten first the crowd and then the disciples on the nature of the kingdom. The Gospels are not in any way meant to be a travelogue for future visitors with descriptions of accommodations and sights and attractions to take in. Some of his parables were told for the crowd while others were told only to the disciples. He told parables focused on the Kingdom of Heaven with respect to God’s action.
A mustard seed, the smallest visible seed, is a symbol often used in the Old Testament to represent the minute. In Matthew’s telling of this parable (Matthew 13:31-35); we see reference to ‘a mustard seed’, one single grain which a man sows in the field. The idea of sowing one single seed is ludicrous of course; no farmer would do such a thing. We can assume then that Matthew is using the seed as an allegory for God’s action in the world, which is often unseen to us. So then, God’s action in the world, seemingly minuscule, will grow, as did the mustard seed, into a tree of great height in which all the birds of the air will find a dwelling. While mustard plants are sometimes as tall as 10 feet with spreading branches and do attract birds, it is a stretch for the Gospel writer to refer to it as a tree and as such this may be taken as an allegory for the expansion of Christ’s kingdom over all the earth even into the Gentile world.
The parable of the leaven Luke 13:20 is similar. Starting with something hidden, yeast in the flour, this grows to many times its size. This is not an action we can see, nor is it one we could ‘do ourselves’. I found it interesting to discover that three measures of flour was actually around 50 lbs and would make enough bread for a hundred, enough for a banquet, for the wedding feast.
Both the mustard seed and the yeast are here present with us today and likewise the kingdom is here in some invisible way already, and will come to fruition through the hand of God in our lives and in the world.