So Jesus went on to say, “What is the Kingdom of God like? With what will we compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in his own garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds flying about nested in its branches.”
20 Again he said, “With what will I compare the Kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour, until the whole batch of dough rose.”
’22 Yeshua continued traveling through town after town and village after village, teaching and making his way toward Yerushalayim. 23 Someone asked him, “Are only a few people being saved?” 24 He answered, “Struggle to get in through the narrow door, because — I’m telling you! — many will be demanding to get in and won’t be able to, 25 once the owner of the house has gotten up and shut the door. You will stand outside, knocking at the door and saying, ‘Lord! Open up for us!’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from!’ 26 Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you! you taught in our streets!’ 27 and he will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from. Get away from me, all you workers of wickedness!’ 28 You will cry and grind your teeth when you see Avraham, Yitz’chak, Ya‘akov and all the prophets inside the Kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown outside. 29 Moreover, people will come from the east, the west, the north and the south to sit at table in the Kingdom of God. 30 And notice that some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.
In my last blog on my xtremejesus.co site I drew attention to the peasant culture of first century Palestine as the source of Jesus’ wisdom, and marvelled that the gospel writers, aiming at predominantly urban audiences, had remained faithful to the original language and thought-pictures of that people: farms, crops, animals, seasons, ownership, household. Here we have another example in the mustard seed and the yeast. If we compare Luke’s version with Matthew’s and Mark’s we notice two changes.
- Luke includes these parables within Jesus journey to Jerusalem, as reflections on the meaning of that journey. Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem is not obviously successful in gathering support; it does not look much like the Rule of God. Luke’s point is that the power of the seed and the yeast are hidden (now) but will certainly be seen (soon). Those who look at his ministry can choose how to see it. Without trust in Jesus people will see it as a failure, while those who trust him will see its hidden but certain development. The parable also applies to the development of people as disciples. They may not immediately become saints but if they have truly allowed God’s goodness into their lives, their growth is assured.
- Luke has edited from the mustard seed parable the peasant detail that he thinks is irrelevant. In particular he omits reference to the very small size of the mustard seed, and he puts it in his garden, not his field. He is not concerned with the contrast between the tiny beginning and the large culmination, but with the certainty of growth taken for granted by the sower and the baker. Because it is a seed, it will grow; because it is yeast the dough will rise. Because the Rule of God requires the cooperation of men and women, its growth is hidden, but it is nevertheless certain.
When the Rule of God is considered from the viewpoint of those who want to be part of it, the picture changes. These men and women will find that there is a way in, but it is narrow, since it requires trust and obedience. Luke does not elaborate on the narrowness of the door, but it also explains why the Jesus’ movement is not supported by crowds: accepting God’s rule is life- giving but tough. Jesus then pictures God’s rule as a household, which includes the forefathers of Israel, and its prophets, along with more recent recruits, on the inside, while those who have opposed Jesus or seen him as a failure will remain outside. The reference to people coming into God’s rule is a hint about Gentiles (the last) being on the inside, while some Jews (the first) are excluded. Clearly this teaching was not given with a view to good PR.
If the Rule of God is even as beyond or outside of human history, it will be understood as dependent only on God’s will and power. But if it is seen as Jesus saw it, as embedded in human history, then it must be understood as a partnership of human beings with God. And indeed that’s exactly how the first belivers saw it. They talked about their communities as koinonias (partnerships) of the Spirit. God had not decided to do it all on his own, but rather, as he/she had shown with Israel, with the active cooperation of men and women.
But the way into that partnership is via the narrow door.
Even if it is not articulated by Luke as it is by John, there is a sense here that because the entry is defined by Jesus’ words and actions, He is the door to God’s Rule.