By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 13:18-30
18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? 19It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
20 And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 21It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
If we were to make rules for the kingdom of God, I think we might start by clearly defining how to be in or out. Jesus teaches instead that the Church is the field of wheat and tares. It’s the giant mustard tree that takes in birds. It’s also the invisible yeast discerned only by its effects. The active faith which grows the mustard tree and welcomes birds may fail to recognize the invisible yeast; while the yeast, deep and contemplative, may doubt the rootedness of the tree. In any case, the door is narrow, and the flour which is leavened may enter by a bare crumb, and the birds might only make it by the feathers of their tails.
Is this lack of clear boundaries about who’s who a kind of chaos and lawlessness, to be stopped only when we get to the narrow door and just hope to be allowed through? I think sometimes that’s our fear. But it’s only a description of the reality of spiritual gravity. Faith influences the world around it, but doesn’t necessarily doesn’t convert all it touches. The birds that start out in high branches need to be brought down to seed and roots. The yeast does nothing if it keeps to itself instead of mixing with flour. It does make things messy having yeast and trees together, getting confused about flour and birds. God must have his reasons for doing it this way. Perhaps one reason is to give charity some room to abound. When we can’t easily judge who’s in and who’s out, we are kept in humility, and required to constantly rely on God to sort it all out. And that trust is exactly what delights God — and sweeps us through the narrow door — probably to be wildly surprised by who we find on the other side!
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Rorya (Tanzania), The Rt. Rev. John Adiema
Diocese of Derry & Raphoe (Ireland), The Rt. Rev. Kenneth Raymond Good
Diocese of Dhaka (Bangladesh), The Most Rev. Paul Shishir Sarker
Church of the Good Shepherd, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee