Luke 13:19b – “It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”
Life can be lonely.
One of the most overwhelming aspects of life is the feeling of loneliness, isolation, or seclusion. As my life fills to beyond blessed, I am alert to the pain experienced by others who feel they exist – alone – in the shadows. Perhaps, you know the aching chill that permeates as the shadow whelms you. Perhaps, you have encountered the emptiness of isolation. For too many of us, allowing life to underwhelm us so that God can overwhelm us begins with the awareness of our isolation. It begins with the acknowledgement of our desire to participate in something larger than our self.
Jesus is teaching in parables. He speaks to the nature of the Kingdom of God, likening it to a mustard seed. These particular seeds were much smaller than the seeds of other plants, bushes, or trees. Mustard seeds, also, grew into large trees. The disparity between the mustard seed and the eventual mustard tree is exceedingly large. Jesus intends to emphasize this disparity by paralleling the KoG to a mustard seed. Jesus affirms the KoG is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. The seed grew and became a tree! Something small and insignificant became substantial.
I discussed the parable with a group of students the other evening. I asked my students to explain the KoG to me. One of the students spoke up. “It is heaven!” she said with certainty. I pressed her. If the KoG is heaven – a far off, distant, perfected place – how, then, can it grow? Or, why would it need to grow? My students thought for a moment. The same young woman said, “Maybe, it is the people!” Now we were getting somewhere. My students began to wonder if the KoG might not be a place. They wondered if it is something else; something more. Moments later, another young man spoke up. He said, “Wait…maybe it is not just people. Maybe it is all of creation. Maybe it is everything!”
What if a new creation emerges out of the old? What if the Kingdom of God was growing in the midst of us? What if you are a part of something larger than yourself and you do not even realize it? (We, also, discussed the identify of the seed. If the KoG is the eventual tree, then what is the original seed? The short answer – Truth; the word of God; or, Jesus Christ. More could be said about Jesus Christ inaugurating the KoG.)
The end of the parable intrigues me. Jesus concludes, “It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13:19) The Kingdom of God would seem pretty pointless if this detail was withdrawn. The Kingdom of God would simply explain how something substantial emerged from something small and seemingly insignificant. The relevance of the KoG would be hidden from us. The image of birds perching in the branches of the tree supplies this relevance and the hope of the KoG. For we are the birds in search of shelter. The Kingdom of God – the new creation emerging out of the old – provides a place for perching!
Life can be lonely. Jesus shares a parable that reminds all of us that something larger than our self is growing in our midst.Those of you who know the aching chill that permeates in the shadows, seek shelter in the shade of its branches. Those of you who have encountered the emptiness of isolation, seek shelter in the shade of its branches. Be lifted up by perching upon its branches and become a part of something larger than you.
Have you ever felt like you existed in the shadows? Have you ever wondered if there was something else or something more for you in this life? I would love to hear from you. Contact me at HamptonUMC@gmail.com or leave a comment for me!