On January 19, 2005, I had written about mustard seeds in a post entitled “How very good God is…” I cited a devotional by Alison Thomas entitled “Tiny Beginnings”. In it she quoted Matthew 13:31 ” The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” Her devotional had been about the tremendous potential inherent in that tiny grain of mustard, that it could become something of such significance that it could provide shelter for the birds.
The past week I heard another commentary by a radio evangelist on this particular scripture, one that was considerably less uplifting. He said that Jesus’ hearers would have known that such prolific growth of a mustard plant would be unnatural and that birds represent evil. He likened the overgrowing of the mustard seed to the overgrowth in the church, people coming into it who are not really Christian but are consumers of Christian services and who are seeking belonging and social connection with others, not a deep relationship with Christ. This cultural trend has, he said, brought the church down, diluting its mission and message, analagous to birds perching in it. I almost got the impression he was talking about vultures!
I much prefer Alison Thomas’ interpretation. She supported it with several Old Testament scriptures which do not in any way suggest that the presence of birds is indicative of evil. Also, the verse begins “the kingdom of heaven is like….” I’m not aware of Christ teaching that the kingdom of heaven is anything but wonderful and desirable. If it had said “And the church on earth is like…..” then I might could have understood and accepted the latter negative interpretation, based on what I have observed at times in the church.
The church today has its shortcomings. It is, after all, an institution of human beings. But it is also a place of hope and great potential. Just because it is not living up entirely to its potential is no reason to trash it. I pray for those who haven’t the eyes to see and for those who put words in Jesus’ mouth in an attempt to explain something they believe.