Of the 75 times that the phrase “Kingdom of God” is used in the New Testament, 32 occur in the gospel of Luke.
In Luke 13:18-21 we read “The parable of the mustard seed,” and “The parable of the yeast.”
18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.”
20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
In both of these parables, there is a primary truth that is taught: something big grows out of something very small. In the case of the yeast, it is the invisible cells that reproduce and permeate the flour in order to make the dough rise. In the case of the mustard seed it is a tiny seed that grows into a huge plant.
This is a true analogy of the Kingdom of God; it only takes a small amount of faith and determination to produce incredibly large results. However, there is a secondary, less obvious truth being explained.
The Kingdom of God is compared to a mustard seed that when planted becomes large enough for birds to perch in its branches. The word “perched” in the NIV translation, in Greek is kataskénoó, which means to pitch a tent or to set up camp. Some versions say that the birds “built their nests” in the tree.
Parasite – an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. (google – parasite)
The parasites in this parable are the birds; they take advantage of the tree by using its branches to provide protection and shelter for themselves and their offspring. They “set up camp” by building their nests in the tree.
In the second parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to yeast. Yeast is technically a fungus, a microscopic mushroom. All fungi are parasites, they depend upon the strength of their host to support them. Yeast uses the sugar in bread dough to reproduce, converting it to alcohol which in turn causes the dough to rise.
The birds and the yeast are both parasites; they are taking advantage of their hosts.
When I read the gospels, I see a Jesus who rarely ever takes a break. From the moment he starts his ministry until the day he is crucified, his schedule is a whirlwind of activity. And when you look closely at the stories, he is frequently imposed upon, asked to do something at an inconvenient time, or taken advantage of.
The secondary lesson we learn from these parables is that the Kingdom of God is characterized by a people who unselfishly give their time, money, and energy to help others. The result has a ripple effect and slowly permeates a culture. However, our acts of kindness will most likely be abused by someone. To be a blessing inherently includes some level of being exploited.
The mug is raised. Are you ready? Here’s to being taken advantage of and giving thanks for it!