“The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.”

These words of Jesus are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke. This seems quite normal that a farmer would plant a seed in his field. Yet Jesus goes on to say something quite shocking. Once the plant has grown and become a large tree, “birds come and make a nest in its branches.” Luke 13:19 (NRSV). In Mark, Scripture states that the “birds make a nest in its shade.”

Wait a minute! We are talking about a farmer here, right?

Although birds are not a huge problem for most gardeners, they have been known to cause serious damage to field crops and can some times eat more than their share of ripe vegetables. So why would Jesus mention that the plant gave shade and a place for the bird to make its nest? I’ve wondered about this since I was a boy. I was always taught that the message of the parable was growth. I was taught that the Kingdom of God begins like a tiny seed and grows to be large. Although this must be a part of the message that Jesus was teaching, why would He mention the birds nesting? The bird is mentioned in all of the Gospel accounts of this parable. What was Jesus trying to tell those listening to him? As with many of the parables of Jesus, he seems to be telling us that the Kingdom of God functions differently.

Not only is the farmer growing food but also providing shelter for those considered enemies of the garden itself.

The logical side of me wants to think of what the bird has to offer. Birds eat thousands of insects and other garden pests. Their droppings add nutrients to the soil. However, I think Jesus was describing a kingdom that goes beyond logic. It is a kingdom of provision for all. So, what does this represent? What does this tell us about God? Most farmers that find a bird nesting in their gardens would be justified to chase the bird away or perhaps destroy its’ nest. Maybe this is where one of the lessons can be found.

I believe that the birds finding a place to nest represents mercy.

In a place where a bird is not usually welcomed, it is allowed to build a home. Although God would be justified to judge and exclude some, God chooses to show mercy. The kingdom of God is like a garden where those who do not deserve it can find mercy. Those who deserve judgment and punishment find shade and a place to live and thrive. Do our churches reflect such ideas? How about our personal lives? Do we interact with others in a way that displays mercy? I know that in the US I was taught to reward those who deserve it, not offer mercy to those who are our ‘enemy.’

Jesus tends to place American ideology on its head in His upside down Kingdom.

Post by Phil Murphy