Jesus taught them this parable: “How can I describe God’s kingdom realm? Let me illustrate it this way. It is like the smallest of seeds that you would plant in a garden. And when it grows, it becomes a huge tree, with so many spreading branches that various birds make nests there.”
Jesus taught them another parable: “How can I describe God’s kingdom realm? Let me give you this illustration: It is like something as small as yeast that a woman kneads into a large amount of dough. It works unseen until it permeates the entire batch and rises high.”
(Luke 13:18-21 TPT)
This month we’re studying two short parables, the parable of the Mustard Seed and the parable of the Leaven. In the text, Jesus uses these two ordinary items from daily life to describe the kingdom of God. In the first illustration, the kingdom is described as the smallest of seeds that grows into a big and spacious tree where birds make their home. In the second illustration, the kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast or leaven that transforms a batch of dough and gives it the ability to rise into loaves ready for the oven. If I’m being honest, the illustrations Jesus uses here are just sooo… ordinary that I’m tempted to overlook their significance. Ironically, I think this is exactly the message that these parables have to offer us: the kingdom of God is found in the ordinary and the overlooked.
I do not have a green thumb by any stretch of the imagination but I do know that the process of a seed growing into a big, life-giving, spacious tree is not easy nor is it an overnight process. The seed needs the right soil, the right temperature, just enough water and light, and enough time to grow into its full potential.
While we’re accustomed to bread that can be made quickly and is readily available to us at all times, that was not the case in ancient Israel. Bread was a diet staple and it fell to the woman of the house to prepare enough each day for her family. This required hours of labor to knead the dough and give it time to rise before it could finally be baked into that day’s provision. And oh my goodness, if you’ve ever had real, artisan-baked bread before, you know that it simply cannot be compared to the loaf of bread you buy in your local grocery store! Commercial bread today uses chemical additives in place of leavening, compromising the taste and nutritional quality in the process. It takes time and effort to create the real thing. It simply cannot be replicated by a quick and easy box mix. Likewise, there’s something so life-giving, so kingdom-like, when we commit ourselves to a process of transformation with no shortcuts. God is in the business of long-term growth. His kingdom simply will not be rushed.
What’s more, God seems content to work unseen for long periods of time. This often frustrates me when I encounter seasons of silence from the God whose voice I love. I beg Him for answers and while I feel the comfort of His presence, He seems in no hurry to respond or intervene. I wonder… in these moments, is He just kneading bits of His grace and wisdom into my life that over time will rise into the fullness that He has for me?
It’s no accident or stroke of luck that the mustard seed became a strong and life-giving tree. The gardener did not plant a mustard seed expecting tomatoes. The woman did not begin to work the dough with her hands unsure of the next step… she knew the recipe by heart. God is describing His kingdom as something small placed with intention to accomplish its purpose.
I became a single mom at the tender age of 17. At that time, I was told everything under the sun about how my life would be difficult and I would be doomed to struggle. (Ah, just the encouragement I needed to hear!) Long story short, 16 years later I have a very successful career and my daughter and I live a comfortable life. I still struggle to explain how I got from A to B. Many times over the years, people have asked me for advice as if surely I have some profound insight on how one graduates from struggling teen mom to successful executive. They would look at me expectantly as I stumbled over my answer. The truth is just not that glamorous. I didn’t have some lofty goal or iron clad determination that kept me on track. I spent years putting one foot in front of the other, worried about whether I would be able to make ends meet the next month and doubting myself the entire way. I didn’t have one big victory or stroke of luck, I had a thousand small ones. Each of those moments with their highs and lows, God has woven together into a life so beautiful that it humbles me… and the best part is that He isn’t done yet.
He isn’t done with me or you or with this sometimes wonderful, sometimes full of suffering world we live in. That’s the secret of the kingdom, hidden among us in plain sight… God is in it with us for the long haul. So stay tuned for the next plot twist in your life and on this earth. God is in the business of increase. He isn’t afraid to start where you aren’t looking and to take His time permeating your entire life with the gifts of heaven.
God, it seems, very deliberately works through the small, the unassuming, the ‘least of these’, the seemingly insignificant.
For His people, He chose the small and often persecuted nation of Israel.
For a king, He chose the youngest and least qualified instead of his stronger and older brothers.
In His lineage, He included prostitutes and murderers.
He came to earth through an unwed teenage girl and revealed Himself to poor shepherds and foreign wise men.
For His friends, He chose the outcasts of religious society, sinners, and criminals.
He regularly sought out the poor, oppressed, and marginalized and he was an ally to women in a culture that viewed them as property.
The Kingdom of God did not come to earth with finery and trumpets blowing as a kingdom should. It came quietly in the night to the least of these, the ones with no political contacts, religious prestige, or marketing degrees. To these, God laid the charge of spreading the good news to the whole earth that the Messiah had finally arrived.
Is it any wonder, friends, that the Kingdom of God is still invading earth today in the small and ordinary? I invite you to sit with the message of these parables this month and ask for eyes to see what God is cultivating in and around you slowly but surely. And would you take a few minutes now to reflect on your own life and offer gratitude to the God who is doing something beautiful in you?