Everything I ever needed to know about the Kingdom of God, I learned from flannelgraph.
Jesus teaching. Jesus talking. Jesus healing. These are scenes forever etched in my mind in bright, friendly flannelgraph pictures. They are pictures that are associated with all sorts-of other ones: pictures from stories throughout all of scripture. And each of those smaller stories is a part of a larger one, which seems to be driving in a single direction.
From the beginning of scripture, the world was portrayed as a place full of violence: violence that upset the order of creation because it represented men trying to press their own “kingdoms” in place of the natural rule of God that characterized the early verses of Genesis.
One thing in scripture is clear: in order for God’s kingdom to come, the kingdoms of violence and politics must come to an end. (Not that there cannot be a place for them in the short-term, mind you, but only to the extent they are useful to God’s means and ends).
So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that, when Jesus came along, he mostly talked about a single subject: God’s kingdom. How it would come. How it would work. Who would be a part of it. Who would be left out. How to look for it. What it would be like after it arrived.
To me, the most powerful images that Jesus used were the images of seeds and plants. Particularly the comparison of the Kingdom of God with a tiny mustard seed that grows into a giant tree. And don’t miss this – it is a tree where birds can find rest. It is a Kingdom, as God promised Abraham, that would bless the nations.
Why was it so important to Jesus to emphasize, again and again, that the Kingdom would start in small ways? Part of the answer, I think, is that it demonstrates that the Kingdom’s power is not in its ability to immediately destroy and replace everything around it, but in its potential for slowly transforming and blessing what is already present. Just as genetic power allows a small seed to transform light, soil, water, and air into something beautiful and useful, so God’s Kingdom comes into our world and transforms each of us, both individually and collectively, until it becomes something tall, beautiful and powerful.
However, a huge caveat is now in order: many people, it seems won’t be capable of accepting the Kingdom. Like hard soil or patches of earth that are covered by thorns, many will be incapable of being a part of it because they are unable to even understand how it works or what it is about, so that it can grow from within them.
Jesus’ warning, then, is that we are always in danger of not properly discerning the Kingdom. We may think we have “taken it in”, and indeed we may even do so for a time, but without discipline and vigilence, it can be lost.
Why we won’t be able to understand what it is about is the other dominant theme in Jesus’ parables, and the subject of the next post on this subject. But, in the meantime, does anyone else want to begin tackling that question?