Like a small,unwanted thing – The Mustard Seed

Mustard seed

Homily for Trinity 3, Mark 4:26-34

Jesus makes us see everything in a different way,

especially our ideas of what it means to be great.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight

-is a Japanese proverb,

and the name of a book by Naoki Higashida.

Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

Naoki has Autism – not the high-functioning – you’d-hardly notice kind, but the high end, non-verbal type that makes ordinary, everyday tasks a massive challenge.  He can’t talk.  Simple things knock him sideways.  He battles against cycles of pain and self-harm every single day.

But Naoki’s writing is beautiful.  It changes the way you see so many things.  Naoki shows us what his world feels like from the inside.  It can be a place of haunting loneliness and prejudice, but also one of overwhelming grace and delight.

For Naoki, going on long walks, gazing at a leaf, spending time in nature are experiences that make his soul burst with joy.  He describes a heart that seeks all the intimacy and friendship that everyone needs.

Fall down 7 times, stand up 8.  The world measures success by how big, strong and clever we can be, but here is a different metric, a different way of seeing things.  Here is the glory of an overlooked humanity growing strong.

Alongside all his daily battles, Naoki is learning all the time how to connect, touch, speak and reach out to others. His story is spreading and inspiring millions of people to see the world and themselves in a different way.

I don’t want to be like Gareth Bale, I want to be like Naoki.

Naoki’s story says to us: You don’t have to measure up to what the ‘normal’ world says is beautiful, important or worthwhile.

Mustard plant
Mustard Plant

I’m holding in my hand a mustard seed.  It really is very tiny.

In our gospel today, Jesus says, ‘the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It’s the tiniest of all seeds, yet it grows into a mighty bush – a tree –  and the birds in the air come and nest in its branches’.


They really don’t.

Mustard plants don’t grow tall like trees;

birds don’t nest in their branches.

A mustard plant is a small, spindly, lop-sided thing.  Ancient writers (like Pliny) thought they were weeds – you just can’t get rid of them.   Rabbis in the Mishnah tried to outlaw

planting them in gardens.

The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed?

Not a Lebanon Cedar

No, the image people liked was the mighty Lebanon cedar tree.  In Daniel and Ezekiel, writers said that Israel would grow from a small cutting into the tallest of trees, the Lebanon cedar, and birds – (the other nations) – would shelter under its mighty branches.

With a smile so big it must hurt, Jesus is turning this fantasy of greatness and power on its head.

A mustard plant, a common weed:

No-one wanted them.

They didn’t grow tall.

They weren’t admired.

Birds did not shelter in their branches.

But Jesus says,

My Kingdom grows

like a mustard seed.

It gets everywhere, it spreads, and once it’s out there, you just can’t get rid of it.

God’s kingdom starts so small,

but then grows and grows

until – until! –

it becomes this…….funny looking, unwanted thing

that the world will say is all wrong.

God loves the little, the lop-sided, the unwanted.

Through unwanted and overlooked things

– Carpenters from Galilee,

Neuro-atypical women like Mary Magdalene,

people the world doesn’t get or understand –

God’s Kingdom is growing and reaching out and blessing

in ways that make us see everything

in a different way,

especially our ideas of what it means to be great.

He finds it impossible to speak,

but with a bit of technology, Naoki is learning how to swim:

“Spoken language

is a blue sea. Everyone else is swimming,

while I’m alone, stuck in a tiny boat, swayed from side to side.

But when I’m working on my alphabet grid or my computer,

I feel as if someone’s cast a magic spell

and turned me into

a dolphin”.

Messy Church prayer stones, Porthkerry Park

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