The kingdom of God starts small. Our attention is easily attracted by the big, the showy, the dramatic, and the unusual. Celebrities. Natural Disasters. Political conflict. And while these things can be important, if we focus all our attention on them, we can overlook the value of the little things, the routines, that make up so much of our real, everyday lives. But Jesus never fails to zero in on the heart of things, and over and over, he shows us that the kingdom of God often comes in subtle, easily-missed ways. With little things.
In Matthew 13:31-33 Jesus gives us two parables to illustrate this: the mustard seed and the yeast.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
What’s Jesus up to here with the mustard seed and yeast? Of all the things you could compare God’s kingdom to, why these?
Well, because they’re ordinary, mundane even. God’s kingdom usually doesn’t arrive like a spaceship—something totally foreign and bizarre—landing in a field. Instead, it’s like a seed—something that already seems to belong—growing in a field. A lot of the time, God’s kingdom seems just that ordinary. Because loving God and loving others is ordinary. As common as sparrows, as earthly as seeds, as routine as breakfast coffee and bread, as normal as aging. Ordinary. Mundane.
Why does God’s kingdom work this way? Maybe because we are ordinary. The kingdom has broken into our everyday, ordinary lives. So it’s through the little, everyday kind of decisions to love God and love others—in the midst of their ordinary lives—that we really start to see and experience God’s kingdom.
So small, ordinary acts of love actually demonstrate that an extraordinary, deep transformation has occurred in a person’s life. Being truly kind, truly loving is never random, accidental, or senseless. It’s routine and deliberate. I’m pretty sure Jesus chose plain images of the kingdom, like seeds and yeast, to point to the heart and soul of our lives—the everyday, the routine.
The other side of this is that the kingdom isn’t just about individuals. It’s about community. So, while a single life or a single action might not look like much, the bigger picture is actually quite beautiful. Yeast and a seed are pretty boring on their own, but when you put them to work in their proper context, the results are dramatic.
Similarly, our lives, on their own, aren’t very strong or exciting. Kind of like a single thread. Ordinary. But when combined together, like the many threads of a tapestry, the ordinary thread becomes both stronger and much more interesting. The fact is, you and I are created for community.
And when I say that, doesn’t something inside you respond? Don’t we all long for community? I mean, just try to have an aesthetic experience without it. It’s almost impossible! When you find a movie or song or beautiful view, don’t you immediately want to share it? You find yourself telling people “you’ve got to see this movie,” or “you have to check out this band.” Social media is based on this, isn’t it? Why do you think we keep instagramming our food?
Listen, when people come to the end of their lives, when famous people write their autobiographies, most of them end up saying pretty much the same sort of thing. That at some point, they all realized their accomplishments, their plaques on the walls, their financial portfolios were all gotten at the expense of their relationships. That, in the end, relationships are what they realize they really want and need. What they wish they had spent time creating.
And that’s where it starts. Ordinary relationship. Family, friends, neighbors. Jesus told us that all of life can be summed up in two spheres of relationship: loving God and loving others. Jesus is all about uniting those two spheres. He’s all about transforming ordinary people into something incredibly extraordinary: a tightly-knit community in which we love one another as we love ourselves. One in which we lay down our lives for each other. That’s where common, everyday love and kindness grow into something rare and wonderful.
What do you think? What would it look like for you if that kingdom mustard seed came and started quietly growing in all your relationships right now? Maybe today is a good day to ask what small things Jesus would like to invite you into.