‘Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.'” Luke 13:18, 19 (NIV).

The kingdom of God is like a multi-faceted and multi-coloured diamond. It is impossible to describe in it one sentence or with one idea. Jesus was constantly telling stories to illustrate yet another aspect of this amazing dimension of life from which He had come. He wanted His hearers to catch a glimpse of its wonder and its splendour and yet, like the prophets of the Old Testament and John in the book of Revelation, He struggled to communicate other-worldly ideas in human language to human understanding.

The point of Jesus’ story is lost to us if we fail to understand the significance of the mustard seed. The mustard seed of which Jesus spoke was a weed in Palestine, not the seed we use to flavour our food. If it were, for example, it could not accurately be classified as the smallest of garden seeds. The seed He called a mustard seed was as small as a grain of pepper shaken from a pepper pot.

In Jesus’ day, there were two types of gardens, the one around the homeowner’s house in which he planted flowers, or herbs for table use, and his field outside the town which he used to grow crops for commercial purposes. No gardener in his right mind would plant a mustard seed in either, to take up the soil’s nourishment and moisture for no good purpose.

So why did Jesus tell a story about a man who did something out of character by planting a mustard seed in his garden? We find the clue in His comparison between us and the way God acts in His realm, in two words, ‘tree’ and ‘bird’s. Unlike our motives which are usually selfish, God cares about the ‘birds’. Since it is a parable, an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, a man plants a mustard seed in his garden to provide shelter for birds. The birds have no value for the gardener, in fact probably the opposite but, because he cares about them anyway, he does it even if it means loss to him.

How like God to something like that! On more than one occasion Jesus used ‘birds’ to illustrate God’s care for creatures who are fragile, transient, of no commercial value (except for the doves that unscrupulous merchants were selling in the temple), and sometimes even destructive to the farmer’s crops. Two sparrows are sold for the coin of least value in their currency; God cares for birds by providing them with food they didn’t grow.

In a money-driven world, to do something like that is unthinkable. It would take time, effort, and money to do something that brings no return, and yet that is exactly how God cares, not only about His creation but about us who are the crown of His creation. Of what value were we to God before He rescued us from our God-denying and self-destructive ways? Not only of no value but a liability to Him.

He created us to bring glory to Him by being mirrors of His nature. We not only failed to fulfil His purpose, we deliberately rebelled against Him, actively denying His existence, ignoring His overtures of love to us and systematically destroying His world that He so lovingly fashioned for His pleasure and our enjoyment.

And yet, God in His mercy, planted a ‘tree’ outside Jerusalem on which His Son hung naked in the burning sun, bled and died for us so that we can take shelter in His ‘branches’. This is the kingdom, the realm into which God invites all who receive His Son as their Master, to enter and to enjoy that shelter with Him in the eternal ‘now’ in which God lives.

Luella Campbell

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