The Mustard Seed and the Leaven, The Narrow Door
by Karla Petty
In the Bible, descriptions of the Kingdom of God are not concrete. Though it is mentioned many times, much remains shrouded in mystery. In these verses in Luke, Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of God is like, sort of.
“What is the Kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” I imagine Jesus saying this with a knowing gentleness and laughter in his eyes. He knows exactly of what he speaks, and the way in which he must speak about it, and he undoubtedly confounded his listeners.
It would be easy for Jesus to lay out the entire plan before us, in no uncertain terms. But he uses commonplace and evocative imagery to paint a broader picture instead. For example: Three measures of flour, about sixty pounds or one ephah, recalls numerous Old Testament passages (Numbers, 1 Samuel, Ezekiel) about sacred offerings made in the same amount. Jesus’ thoughtful similes are meant for a much wider audience, far outside the immediate bounds of his audience at that moment.
Jesus tells us through this meaningful imagery that the Kingdom of God affects and attracts. It affects the things it comes into contact with and it attracts life. It is a force that makes things grow to their fullest height. It breathes new life into things that are flat and formless. (Note: In other places in the Bible, leaven is cautioned. But evil often imitates good, doing what it does but with a malevolent twist.) Jesus shows us first how the Kingdom of God inspires and encourages flourishing. Second, he subtly underscores that we cannot know everything about it. Even in the mystery we must trust in its reality, and strive for the narrow door. And third, he alludes to the necessity of patience. Tall plants and trees take a long time to grow to their fullest height, bread takes a long time to rise and sometimes has to go through the process several times. The Kingdom of God is something we work for now, and wait for at the same time.
The mystery surrounding the Kingdom of God is also an invitation into relationship with God. Where we first really get to know God is in the space between facts and unconditional trust. Pursuing this invitation is how God will know us when we finally knock at the narrow door, and how we will know which mustard plant to nest in, what dough is truly of good leaven, and at which door to knock in the end.
God, in your mercy You have given us signposts, words, and wonders pointing us toward you. We trust in the coming of Your Kingdom both now, and someday soon. Please reveal to each of us our roles in the growing and the leavening of Your Kingdom. That, even as we wait, we would fully trust in Your hands at work above, below, and alongside us. Amen.
Karla Petty is the Director of Program Development for Coracle. She lives in Old Town Alexandria and loves exploring, live music, and good stories.