Jesus presented another parable to the crowds: “The kindom of heaven is like the mustard seed which a farmer sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it is the biggest shrub of all – it becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come to perch in its branches.”
Jesus offered them still another parable: “The kindom of heaven is like the yeast a baker took and mixed in with three measures of flour until it was leavened all through.”
Mathew 13: 31-33 (Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-21)
|Humble Beginnings by Nickola McCoy-Snell|
For example, few observers would have suspected that a hole-in-the-wall transvestite bar would become the match to light the modern Gay Rights Movement in the United States. Yet the name Stonewall is now known the world over. In its wake queer sexuality is seen less and less as a predilection and more and more as a life-affirming path.
McCoy-Snell’s painting reminds us that the greatness of a person or even a movement is often masked by the circumstances of their conception and birth.
However, to leave these parables with the cliché is to miss some of what Jesus is needling us with. The mention of the mustard seed becoming a “tree,” when horticulturaly speaking it can only become a bush, gives us pause. In Ezekiel 3 the picture of a tree is used to represent what is evil, particularly, the evil nations. The image of the tree tied with the image of leaven reinforces this connection as leaven is used in the jewish Passover liturgy to symbolize the spread of evil.
It may be better to hear these parables saying, that not only out of insignificant beginnings, but also out of what may at first appear as evil, God’s Empire emerges. In fact this is the interesting crux of these parables. They seem to link small and perceived-as-evil initiatives which transform lives and culture to the work of the Holy in our midst.
If I understand these parables correctly – and many would disagree with me – than I do not think it is too great of a leap to suggest that the Gay Rights Movement may indeed be an extension of God’s Empire in the life of queer people: especially an Empire which opposes the inequality, discrimination, and immoral subjugation of the kingdom of sexual conformity.
Can working to extend gay rights to queer people and those enslaved by erotophobia be understood as working to extend God’s Empire in our lives? I believe the answer is yes. To borrow an insight from Luke (4:18-19), Jesus inaugurates God’s realm by sharing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the captive, and restoring sight to the blind. Has this not been the experience of those who live in the wake of the Gay Rights Movement? We share the good news of a sex-positive God. We are leaving our closets to live wholly and honestly. We are working towards a world which celebrates the diversity of life.
Through these parables Jesus twist our understanding of what makes for God’s realm. It is not the pretty picture of homogenous heavenly bliss. Rather it is the more exciting dynamic of personal and cultural transformation as lived in the struggle for dignity.