Jesus was in cracking form that day. He was bouncing with energy, sparkling with wit and with laughter. Towards evening we came near to a little village. In the fields outside we stopped to rest. At the field edge he sat down and at last fell silent.
It was getting near harvest, and we rubbed a little grain between our hands, nibbling on the seeds as they came clear of the husks, hard enough to be dislodged but still with a little damp sweetness in the core. The cool of the day was stealing on and we did not need shade to sit and relax. Anyway, the only shade here was a mustard bush, full of little Blackcap birds, searching for insects in the plant. Andrew wandered over, and helped himself to a couple of the pods, setting the seed free and crunching a mouthful of sweet corn and hot mustard.
’Cor, no wonder it is grown at the field’s edge and not in gardens,’ he commented, looking down. ‘There’s a forest of seedlings shooting up! A bit wilted-looking though. Suppose the drought will get them soon.’
‘Don’t believe it,’ said Matthew, who came from solid farming stock. ‘They will suck up the dew and be good as new in morning. They will grow and grow and only determined efforts to plough them will ever control them. As for stopping them, er, no. You can’t’ He gestured. There must have been a dozen full-grown bushes along the edge of the field, many showing determined efforts had been made to cut them back.
‘Delicious, though,’ hinted Jesus. Andrew tipped a selection of wheat and mustard seed into the Rabbi’s hand.
Jesus chewed some of it. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘You plant one big wheat seed and what do you get? How many seeds grow in the head? You would be lucky to get fifty, I would think. Perhaps one bird would perch on a stem of wheat, a little finch, maybe.
‘And look at the mustard seed. Not half the size, not a quarter. And it shoots up and you cannot stop it. Cut it back and it just bushes out more. And look, the birds! Little birds dancing through it, picking a living in it. How many seeds to the plant? Hundreds, maybe thousands. You don’t need to sow it, it does that for itself. You dare not put it in a garden, or in a couple of years your garden is all mustard.
‘It is, everybody knows, an utter pest. Yet we all kind of love it. Here is Andrew offering it to me as a little fiery treat. It makes my mouth water. It is an almost painful pleasure. But oh, yes, you long for it.’
He looked at us, and he was suddenly extra solemn, deadly grave. We all sobered up. ‘This Kingdom I tell you of? Heaven? The world where things are done as they should be?’
We were silent, nodding. We were waiting for him to tell us there would be no mustard in this kingdom, no half-dirty, half-painful pleasures. No weeds which bring us pleasure. Heaven would be a very serious, very clean business.
‘That Kingdom,’ he said, ‘That Kingdom is JUST like the mustard.’ We looked at him and if I looked as silly as Andrew, sitting there, jaw dropping, no wonder Jesus laughed out loud, tipping back his head, roaring. Once again he had sprung a trick on us. Ruefully, we began to laugh too. He sprang up, and picked himself some mustard seeds, and scattered them. We were still laughing as we reached the village.