The mustard plant is a quickly growing, rapidly spreading plant that matures to about 4 feet. Rabbinical law at the time prohibited this plant in gardens because of its invasive properties. Its branches are rather thin; hard to imagine them supporting a bird’s nest. So in a culture where people imaged the Kingdom of Heaven as strong, powerful, and magnificent … like the cedars of Lebanon (think giant Redwoods of California) … Jesus says it’s more like an “unclean”, unimportant little bush that you wouldn’t want in your garden because it would grow everywhere and take over the vegetables! Likewise the parable of the yeast: leaven was a sign of corruption in a culture where unleavened bread represented the holy, the sacred. Is Jesus saying one ought to look for the Kingdom of Heaven in the small and weak, the insignificant and the profane; the things that disturb our moral and rational sense?
One of the core Ignatian Values and a guiding light for many in their decision making is “Magis”…. The more, referring to Ignatius’ directive to always seek “what more can I do for God”. It is often associated with the Latin phrase Ad majorem Dei gloriam, “For the greater glory of God.” How easily I find myself slipping into our culture’s myths… “if a little is good, more is better”, and “the bigger the better” when making decisions. I don’t think this is what Ignatius had in mind, but it’s a ubiquitous trap. Although large programs and projects that serve great numbers of people might be good things, might they also be kingdoms of our own making? In looking for the Kingdom of Heaven, might we rather look to small gestures of kindness and generosity towards those one despises? What ripple effect do these have for the people who notice such things? God’s presence might be very ordinary, noticeable only because it agitates and annoys us.
And speaking of annoying, let’s take a look at the image that Jeremiah gives us… “For as close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord; to be my people, my renown, my praise, my beauty.” I have often used the phrase “God is closer to us than our own breath”, but underwear? What does that image evoke in you?
When is “less” the “more” in your life? When is a “no” a “yes” to something that more closely resembles the Kingdom of Heaven? Do you cling to God, despite the messiness and stench?
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