Repost – The Acorn and the Mustard Seed

Since 2007, the image of an oak tree and mustard plant has completely gripped me. I can’t get it out of my head and heart. So I’m re-naming my blog after this image. Here’s the original post with a couple changes…..

“Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32).

I grew up in church and often heard this parable of Jesus. I don’t think I ever wondered what a mustard seed grew into. I just assumed that the mustard seed was something like an acorn which grows into a huge oak tree. (C’mon. I’m from the Midwest. Forests are where birds hang out, right?) Jesus’ kingdom is like a huge oak tree – sturdy, strong, wind and storm proof, the tallest of trees.

Couple huge problems with that image…One, Jesus is talking about a garden, not a forest. Two, mustard plants grow 10 feet max, and they are often only 3 or 4 feet. Mustard is no oak tree. And mustard is invasive which means that once you get it in your garden, it’s next to impossible to get out.

I have an invasive plant in our flower beds. It’s me against that crazy plant every summer. It grows 3 feet tall and has a cute little purple flower on the top. But I don’t WANT it there. I’ve tried everything to get rid of it….cutting them down (plural….they pop out everywhere), pulling them out, pouring poison on them, and calling them names. Nothing seems to work. I took one of the stalks (is that what you call it?) to the local landscape and garden center. They couldn’t help, shook their head and said, “Good luck” with a “yeah, right” smile.

That’s more like a mustard plant.

I wonder if this slight shift in perspective is more important that we might first think. Viewing God’s kingdom as an invasive garden plant that can’t be stopped is MUCH different than oak tree theology.

I subscribe to a “conservative” Christian political email update as well as Sojourners, a more “liberal” Christian political update. I’m not sure I want to throw in my towel with either side. But one thing that drives me up a wall about the conservative one is the “kingdom as an oak tree” perspective. I’m all for using our voice and influence to change culture. That’s part of the cultural mandate in Genesis 1 and 2. But the spirit and tone behind some of the updates sound more like a diseased oak tree that’s being cut down than a mustard plant that knows if you cut down one stalk, another will pop up.

And there are many, many more life and ministry implications of an oak tree perspective.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed and it can’t be stopped, even if someone tries. But might Western Christianity actually be stopped if it continues to view itself as a mighty oak instead of a mustard plant? I don’t hope for that, but I do wonder.