Pause for thought
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Even a casual study of the Gospels reveals the great mismatch between the accepted religious beliefs of Jesus’ time and the explanations he gave of how things really were, or from our perspective, how they would be.

I often joke that the Kingdom of Heaven must be in the Southern Hemisphere since according to Jesus’ explanations, everything seems to be upside-down. His teaching is full of admonitions that are backward to what we perceive as “common sense”: “the first will be last”, “the meek will inherit the earth”, “love your enemies”, “masters must be servants”, “children will be leaders”, and so on. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “common sense is that set of prejudices laid down before age sixteen”, and if he is to be believed we should be very careful in the example we set for our children!

I am fascinated by the explanatory parables Jesus uses to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. He uses everyday examples of things which his listeners would be perfectly accustomed to, and recognize, to make his point. Of course, the parables are similes, which means that they describe some aspect of the kingdom but are not meant to represent all aspects. That’s why he uses so many different examples.

One of those examples he uses twice and is included in three of the four gospels. That must mean it was really memorable to the disciples. That memorable example involves the mustard seed.

“Aha! “, you say, “that’s the one about moving mountains”, and you would be correct, but maybe not in the way you’ve heard preached! It’s not about the size of the disciples' faith, but about their lack of faith!

Afterward the disciples asked Jesus privately, “Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?” “You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible. Matthew 17:19,20 NLT

Let me suggest that Jesus employed hyperbole to point out the utter futility of attempting anything for the Kingdom without the faith that God could and would accomplish it.

The disciples had just tried to heal a demon possessed boy, but they did so by trying to recite magic spells and ritual formulas they thought Jesus might use. They said the right words! They didn’t actually believe in the hocus hocus they were saying! I can just imagine Jesus slapping his forehead and saying, “Oy vey! How long have you been around me? Have you guys learned nothing about faith?” Lest you think we’re more sophisticated than that, let me remind you that there is a sizable segment of the Christian Church that believes that reciting six “Ave Maria”s and a “Pater Noster” will make everything better!

However, I find Jesus’ second reference to mustard seeds much more intriguing as it deals with conditions in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32 NLT

Here, I think, Jesus’ emphasis is not on the size of the mustard seed as it starts life, but the enormously productive structure (tree) it grows into! It starts of as the smallest, most insignificant, piece of potential plant life, but when nurtured and allowed to reach its full potential it is the largest and most significant source of protection, shade and shelter in the neighborhood!

If I understand Jesus’ simile, in the Kingdom of Heaven, my (your) faith — although it may seem insignificant at first — will grow into a huge asset that will provide refuge, comfort and encouragement to the “birds” (people) throughout the Kingdom.

We tend to forget that Christ’s Kingdom will be populated with people like us, and we will be part of the marvelous resources as part of God’s provision.

My preacher friends might like to explore the parallels between this vision of the Kingdom and the trees of the Garden of Eden before sin spoiled everything!

Jesus will be (is) the Tree of Life, and we will be the fruitful (love, joy, peace, etc…) trees to be enjoyed by the inhabitants of the Kingdom.

I think Jesus is pointing out that although our faith may start out small and insignificant, He can work with that. He can feed and nurture and prune and direct its growth until at last it is something truly huge, magnificent, and part of the local infrastructure.

So, "Believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts, but never believe your doubts or doubt your beliefs!"

Now I have to try and get that picture of the Lord slapping his forehead and saying “Oy vey !”, out of my head!

Grow that mustard seed! Others in the Kingdom will be counting on you!

Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black

P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at

Friday December 15th, 2023
Friday December 1st, 2023