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When kissing flowers, tulips are better than one.



I took this picture with a friend's phone yesterday while waiting at a red light.

I like this photo because it reminds me that beauty can be found in the strangest of places. In my opinion, that's part of what makes it so beautiful in the first place. It reminds me that amidst hardship and struggle, despite the sheer weight and power of concrete, the subtle elegance of a flower can still prevail.

As our brother Shane Claiborne says "The blessing of the world through the people of God is not like a violent, quick revolution that takes over power. It starts small, grows silently, faces setbacks, but nevertheless permeates the world with love."

German theologian Gerhard Lohfink comments on Jesus' famous "Parable of the Sower" in Matthew 13 by writing "Jesus is very aware of the 'impossibility' of the cause of God in the world. In his seed parables he depicts not only the unstoppable growth of the reign of God, but also the frightening smallness and hiddenness of its beginning."

In this parable, it is possible that Jesus is doing more than simply telling his listeners to "be that good soil", as so many churches often interpret it. He was always sending others out to sow the kingdom of God along with him, so it is possible that much of what he was saying was "In a confusing and violent world, keep sowing the seed of love. Even when the kingdoms and empires of this world cut it down, and even when the world's riches try to choke it out, be diligent to plant the seed of love. You may be surprised at the things God can do."

Farmers must be extremely patient and not easily discouraged. The people that followed and adored Jesus hoped for a swift and mighty overthrow, but apparently God's kingdom is peculiar and starts small and humble.

Jesus used another strange agricultural analogy in Luke 13 when he compared the kingdom of God to that of a mustard seed. This is at the heart of Jesus' political imagination. With these stories Christ isn't providing us with a set of wise abstract truths that we can simply apply to our current situation or governments, he is calling us to a deeply sacred and radically different way of living our lives all together.

We've all heard our fair share of cute sermons about the mustard seed parable, and how God takes small people and does big things. But I would argue that there possibly is a lot more going on in this story.

The mustard plant is not a cute garden shrub that you would plant in front of your house to show the neighbors how agriculturally fashionable you were - it is a wild, uncontrollable bush often notorious for invading other plants and taking over entire gardens. Farmers compare it to the Kudzu, a wild vine powerful enough to crack cement buildings. Jewish law even forbade planting mustard in the garden. So you can imagine the alarmed expressions on the faces of those who heard Jesus compare the kingdom of God to this unruly plant.

During those days, the common imagery for the kingdom of God was the "cedars of Lebanon", the great and mighty redwood. Crowds likely would have roared with applause at these illustrations, but Jesus rebuked these analogies. After all, the mustard bush stands only a few feet high at best.

When his followers insisted on a frontal attack, Jesus unceasingly contends that his revolution is a subtle contagion, a presenting structure of love and grace in a world drunk on power.

Like any plant, the mustard seed is most powerful when it is broken, for only then can it really spread. We see this in John 12:23 when Jesus says

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."

I read a story about when Darius, King of the Persians invaded Europe, he sent Alexander the Great a bag of sesame seeds as a taunt, indicating to sheer multitudes of his army. In return Alexander sent back a bag of mustard seeds with the message "You may be many, but we are powerful. We can handle you."

Christ's power was not in crushing, but being crushed, conquering over the sword of our empires and kingdoms with the power of his cross. The subtle contagion of God's kingdom is actualized when we we truly die to ourselves and pick up our own crosses. I think Tertullian said it so well:

"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"

May we, like the small flower growing through the cracks in the concrete, live in the abundant truth of God's peculiar kingdom, loving the unlovable and overcoming darkness with unquenchable light. May our lives be engulfed in the overwhelming reality of the deep need for justice, truth, and imagination and the beauty of the subtle power of Christ that overcomes it

2 comments:

  1. I like this...a lot. Much chewing will be done with these words, so please, don't make me talk with my mouth full. :)

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  2. i will never forget weeding out garlic mustard for brenda braaten....aleks (the math program) and weeding garlic mustard is the penance i paid during my judson years.

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