"The Miraculous Mundane" – Matthew 13:31-35
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’
Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth to speak in parables;
I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”
In order to put yourself in a better position to understand this parable, I’d like you to imagine you were part of the crowd to whom Jesus was addressing this parable. You, a Jewish man or woman in the first century, have a lot of questions and high expectations for this rabbi who has been wandering around from village to village astounding crowds with his teaching and performing miracles.
You have been listening to Jesus for a while now and he keeps telling stories – stories about things you encounter on a daily basis. There was the story of the sower who wasted his seeds by scattering them without any care for where they would land and yet still ended up with a miraculous harvest. That story made you think about God differently, imagining God as something that plants seeds of grace in every corner of creation
Next came the story of the weeds and the wheat growing together. What a relief to hear that even though evil and righteousness exist together right now, God is in control of separating them and will do so at the appointed time.
Now Jesus tells two more stories. The first about a mustard seed that grows into a large bush which birds can use for shelter. The second about a woman who hides leaven in three measures of flour and watches as the glob of dough rises.
You know what both of these things are. In fact, they’re so common to you that you probably don’t spend much time thinking about or appreciating them. Those mustard bushes are all over the place. They are quite pretty plants, with those yellow flowers, and you know that its seeds and leaves are used in cooking and medicine. Come to think of it, you have seen birds nesting in these bushes, just as Jesus pointed out.
And of course you know all about leaven (*what today we would call "sourdough starter"). You have a jar of it in your home. A gelatinous goo with a sour, earthy smell. It’s the key to making bread. Every day you reach in and take a portion of it out, mix in into your flour, and watch the dough rise to three times its original size. You also add more flour to the jar of leaven each day so that it will be ready to be used the next day and will never run out.
And did Jesus say that leaven was going into three measures of flour? That is an absurd amount of flour. It would make over sixty loaves of bread. That’s enough for a wedding party. And then you remember why that phrase “three measures of flour” sounds familiar. That was the amount of flour Abraham instructed Sarah to use to bake the cakes for the three mysterious visitors who would then announce she would give birth to a son in her old age. You wonder if Jesus meant to make a connection between the kingdom of God, your kitchen, blessing, and new life.
With that little imaginative exercise I hope you were able to see that the things that Jesus spoke about in his parables were things you would encounter on a daily basis – things that are so common that you might even fail to pay attention to them. Such things are the key to understanding the Kingdom of Heaven.
In the parables, the leaven and the mustard seed are not really metaphors for more noble truths or difficult concepts; instead, they are reminders to be aware of the miracles of daily existence.
If you are looking for the Kingdom of Heaven, look no further than the parts of God’s creation that you encounter in your daily life.
The kingdom of heaven is in the fermentation of yeast and the photosynthesis of plants – both are processes of transformation and new life that take place without any work of your part.
Jesus reveals this truth in the context of a group of religious people who had asked Jesus for a sign to prove he was the Son of God. Rather than do something they would have understood as otherworldly and miraculous, Jesus directs their attention to God’s ongoing activity in the world – in and through things as common and unremarkable as leaven in every home and mustard plants in every garden.
Jesus points to the God who is incarnate in every natural process and creature in the world, and invites the crows to see every daily encounter and action as a way to experience the God of all creation.
I took my boys golfing this week – something they wanted to do before the school year started. Upon completing the front nine we had to stop by the clubhouse both for bathroom break; but also so that I could buy more golf balls since we lost quite a few to the various ponds and heavy brush out-of-bounds areas.
As I was paying for the golf balls, the older man running the register told me, “That’s a special gift you’re giving those boys.” My first thought was that he was talking about the sleeve of the cheap golf balls I was buying. Perhaps sensing my confusion he continued, “I was a great athlete in high school. I set records in wrestling and baseball…and my dad never came to see me play, not even once. He was too busy drinking. I see kids playing golf with their parents here and I just know that’s a special gift. When they get older they’ll spend time with their kids because you did something special for them.”
I thanked the man for his observation – for reminding me of the gift it was to spend time with my children. I don't tell that story to make it look like I'm the hero of this story. The man in the clubhouse is the hero of this story because he is the one who was able to look at something ordinary, something he has seen countless times in his time at the golf course, and call my attention to its sacredness.
The key to understanding the kingdom of God is to make an effort to notice God’s limitless presence and grace in even the most common and unremarkable things. As with yeast and tiny mustard seeds, these common everyday things are packed with kingdom potential.
The Christ-follower’s call is to go around calling attention to the grace inherent in common and unremarkable things, responsibilities, and people.