Two kinds of kingdoms

This was the homily from this week’s worship service, delivered by Hugh Hollowell. The text was from Ezekiel 17:22-23 and Matthew 13:31-32

Sometimes, things are hard to describe. Imagine what it would be like to describe a kiss to someone who had never been kissed. Or describing the taste of bacon to someone who had never eaten pork.

That is Jesus’ problem here in the second passage we just read – he is trying to describe something awesome to people who have never experienced it, and so he is reduced to using metaphors.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed.

Oh. Well thanks, Jesus. That clears it all up.

OK, Jesus. We give. How is it like a mustard seed?

In the story Jesus tells here, where the Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed, there are several things going on you have to know for this to make sense.

The first is that there is a guy planting mustard seeds. That just did not happen – at least, not usually. See, mustard grows like crazy. It the book of Leviticus prohibited the planting of two kinds of seeds in the same field, and mustard grows like crazy and takes over the whole garden. So, if you planted mustard on one row and beans on the next row, then the mustard would eventually work its way into the beans, and your field would be unclean.

So, you kept mustard over in its own place, and you did not have to plant it but once, because it went crazy after that.

So, right off the bat, here we have Jesus saying the Kingdom of God is like a guy who is making his field unclean.

Huh.

And then, Jesus says that the mustard seed, which is very small, grows into a huge, giant… shrub. And that shrub – that is what the Kingdom is like.

A shrub.

See, in the first reading today, the kingdom of God was compared to a cedar tree. For the folks of that time, a cedar was the tallest tree they knew of.

Imagine, instead of a cedar, we say “redwood” or “sequoia”. A tall huge, tree. And according to Ezekial, God is going to plant a cedar on top of the tallest mountain, and that cedar represents the Kingdom.

Majestic. Powerful. Mighty. Strong.

But Jesus says Ezekiel was wrong.

The Kingdom, Jesus says, begins with the unclean, and ends not with a majestic tree on a mountain proclaiming greatness to all who see it, but instead with a much more modest weed that at best grows into a small shrub that shelters the defenseless birds in its shade.

The Kingdom is coming, Jesus proclaims. But it doesn’t look like you think it will.

A lot of time and money and effort has been spent trying to bring about the Kingdom as envisioned by Ezekiel. A kingdom that proclaims greatness and power and might. Jesus invites us to another Kingdom, however – one that is nothing special to look at, but spreads like wildfire and shelters the defenseless.

The question before us is simply this: “Which Kingdom do we wish to be part of? And which Kingdom do we want to help build?”