Wednesday, February 2, 2011
The Dandelion Tree
It's hard to understand about 80% of the Bible if you don't live in an agricultural society, and do at least a little bit of growing things. And sometimes even the Bible makes it hard to understand what's going on.
Take Matthew 13:31-32: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the
air come and make nests in its branches.”
Right. Great story. The Kingdom (or the realm of God, as I like to say) is a thing that grows. When we tell it in Godly Play with the kids, we roll up a piece of cloth and hide it in our hands and unroll it - it's shaped like a tree. The kingdom is like something small becoming big.
uh-uh. We're missing a major part of the story, because, well, have you ever seen a mustard tree? GUESS WHAT - mustard is a weed. A shrub, maybe a bush at best. Mainly, a weed. It spreads ferociously. And when the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches, I'm slightly concerned given that earlier in the chapter, the story of the "sower and the seed" was told, and the birds' role in that was to eat the seeds on the path. Birds aren't necessarily great for your seed-sowing endeavors. So the story could be re-told....
The Realm of God is like a dandelion, which is a small seed when blowing on the wind - it is too small to catch, even, or to keep off your lawn - but when it grows it becomes a TREE, full of pigeons and crows and rats and squirrels.
(not as pleasant).
The thing with trees, is that trees and especially the "greatest" trees, the majestic cedars, were often compared to the house of Israel. It's not just about size, it's about your past as well. YHWH has a long history of planting and uprooting that house - that tree. Ezekiel prophesied that a cedar tree would be planted on mount Zion, and that all kinds of birds would come to roost in it. And now there's another plant, a lowly shrub, which will take its place and shelter its birds. Ezekiel said "all the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish." .... but he may not have imagined that the "low tree" and the "dry tree" wouldn't even be a tree, but a weed. If cedar trees are majestic institutions, mustard plants and dandelions are subversive movements. And Jesus has deliberately mixed these images, creating a mustard plant which does what cedar trees do.
What are we? As followers of the parable-telling Christ, are we planting cedar trees, pruning rosebushes, training topiaries in a good-looking, majestic church? Or are we tossing dandelion seed to the wind like playful children, spreading mustard seed in the dry and rocky ground where it can dig its tenacious roots in?
Here's the other beautifully disorienting thing. Mustard is an annual. It does NOT grow bigger and bigger as time goes on; it dies every year and grows again from the seed it has spread abroad. So if we and all the nations of the earth are to come like birds and roost in the shade of the mustard plant, we will not be guaranteed that there even IS a particular mustard plant in the same place it was last year. The Realm of God shifts and grows and changes. Notably UNLIKE cedar trees. Do we shift and grow and change?
The kingdom of God is like a dandelion tree. May it be so. Amen.