One of the early books I read on ‘The Way of Discipleship’ in the early 80s was ‘Learning how to die.’ I remember, during my undergraduate days at Adeyemi College of Education, Ondo, and as Choirmaster and President of the College Chapel, when fellow students and even brethren comes into my hostel room and check my book shelves, they quickly looked away from the book, ‘Learning how to die.’ However, many of them always take serious look and borrowed other books on – Power for Success, How to find good wife and husband, and Secret of Prosperity. The book, ‘Learning how to die’ which set forth the terms of discipleship as the Lord Jesus meant them to be, resonates with the parable of the mustard seed and the leaven told by Jesus, the Palestinian revolutionary, who was prepared to live and die to see a new world order come in to being (Matt 13).
Jesus again reminds us that ‘unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain: but if it dies, it bears much fruit’. The reflection is that ‘death is the pathway to life; spiritual growth comes not through insisting on living, but on embracing dying: then is the way open for there to be much fruit’ (Jn 12:24-25). Beloved, the mustard seed of our lives, marriage, churches, nations, families, and pride must first die for us to flourish in the fear and honour of God. For example, United Kingdom was a mustard seed planted on the good soil of God’s Word. Today, it has grown as the greatest among nations, and becomes a tree, so that many other nations like the birds of the air are coming and lodging in different part of the nation until BREXIT phenomenon and upheaval. The foundation of United Kingdom was that of a mustard seed planted on the Bible and this summons the church to ARISE out of slumber and stop the shifting and drifting that is going on.
To live kingdom identity beyond and above the world order and pandemic, the mustard seed of our flesh must first die. The call to daily death in Christian theology helps to experience daily transformation in preparation for our ultimate transformation through physical death. This connects to the parable of the dragnet with eschatological emphasis on the certainty of the separation of the wicked and the righteous at the final judgement (Matt 13: 47-50).
Jesus used the parable of the mustard seed to show that the Kingdom has small beginnings but with potential to grow and produce great results. The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in Matthew recounts the story of something small and hidden that, through an organic process (Holy Spirit empowerment), becomes great. God’s plan for you and me is that our small and hidden glory must grow. Let us remember the small and hidden glory of the boy with five loaves of bread and fish; Let us remember the sick and hidden woman with issue of blood; Let us remember remember the small and hidden David in the farm; let us not forget the mustard seed of Zacchaeus, a chief tax-collector at Jericho, and an example of Jesus’s personal, earthly mission to bring salvation to the lost.
Living Kingdom identity is not about our small, sick, barren beginning but our glorious, healed, and blessed end. We are called not to belittle the day of our small kingdom beginning because of lack of immediate success but the hope is that success is our ‘divinely ordained destiny. If leaven leavens the whole lump, and if a little mustard seed becomes a tree, similarly will the kingdom become, in the end, the measure of all things.’ Living kingdom identity is not cash and carry or buy 1 and get 10 culture. Living kingdom identity is about death to self and devotion to Jesus and dedication to His mission. In the Christian tradition and mission, death, beyond the transition or the change of address that takes place at the end of our lives is the gateway to fullness of life which takes place at our baptisms. In essence, the parable of the mustard seed is about dying to our pride, position, sin, ego among others in order to know real life and growth. Corporately, the mustard seed suggests the church which can be taking over by Jesus as vehicle to spread scriptural holiness and make a difference.
The parables in Matthew 13 read us, our church, nation and ‘how we hear them depends on the condition of our hearts. If we listen well and obey God’s word, these stories can change us. The stories teach us about God’s kingdom, and identify us as children of that kingdom, showing us how to live into that identity.’ Kingdom identity is different from worldly identity, hence Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (Jn 18:36). Kingdom identity and power is Spirit-shaped while the worldly identity is based on human wisdom and power.
Living kingdom identity ‘comes as a threat to those who cling to the old world order. Jesus of Nazareth wants God’s Kingdom to invade and dominate the land and that is the message he is prepared to live and die for.’ Living kingdom identity ‘bubbles up from within and completely transforms the environment in which it grows.’ Living kingdom identity as mustard seeds and yeast is dynamic and ‘grow in secret and then, all of a sudden, the host environment becomes transformed.’ Living kingdom identity as seed and the yeast may be painful but not wasteful and the sower and the baker cannot control them. The sower and the baker points to the world secular order that opposes the people and the Word of God.