The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches… The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.
Reading the Mercury News or the New York Times these days is not uplifting: news of violence, wildfires, climate change, and poverty fill the pages. Where is the good news?
The original listeners of Jesus must have thirsted similarly for good news. Imagine their lives: Roman taxes so heavy there was little left over to feed their families; total imperial control of their political, social, and religious lives; daily oppression and humiliation every time they encountered a Roman soldier or citizen. So when a prophet from Galilee announced the coming of a different kingdom, a kingdom of God and not of Caesar, they flocked to hear him.
You can imagine what they might have expected to hear: “The kingdom of heaven will come like a herd of bulls, trampling everything in its path,” or, “the kingdom of heaven will erupt like a volcano.” Surely, the arrival of the counter-empire will be through a force at least as powerful as the Romans.
Instead, Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, or like yeast – small and easily overlooked.
How can this be the good news we’ve been waiting for? We want a power that can fight corporate interests and the political elite, wall street titans and the military-industrial complex. Something that can reverse climate change, end our wars, and eliminate poverty, not… a mustard seed!
And yet, is there wisdom here? Does it seem like BIG things are part of the problem? After all, the Roman Empire was big. The Democratic and Republican parties are big. Hedge-funds are big and Exxon-Mobile is big. And isn’t the agenda of big things always its own self-preservation and perpetuation, not the common good?
The kingdom of heaven, the revolution of love, has to come from something small if it’s going to be different from the status quo.
Small is part of the beauty of Casa de Clara. We try to love the four women and children we share daily life with, and the twenty or so alumni we stay in touch with; we have no aspirations to become a 40 or 60 or 600 bed shelter. We’ve learned that we can’t love “the homeless” in general, only individuals experiencing homelessness. And so we eat dinner together five nights a week, check in about our days, and do the dishes together afterwards. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 4,350 homeless individuals in San Jose, but we commit to these few, and do everything we can to see their transition through.
This, though, is not the end of the story. The kingdom starts small, and then explodes – 3 measures of flour was enough to bake 150 loaves of bread. What starts as yeast becomes enough to feed hundreds; a tiny seed becomes a large bush wherein birds find rest.
There is a revolution underway. The kingdom of Caesar won’t have the last word, and neither will the kingdom of Trump. But the answer won’t be the kingdom of Pelosi, or of Kamala Harris, or of Bernie Sanders. No, the kingdom of heaven will be small, overlooked by the world and the powers-that-be, until, before we know it, it overtakes the whole world.
In other words, the revolution starts in a thousand small corners of the world. It happens whenever people stand with the poor, and declare that Black Lives Matter; resist mountaintop mining, and support the local economy; expose the madness of nuclear weapons, and grow their own food. In San Jose, we offer housing, hot showers, and friendship to a handful of our neighbors living on the streets – our efforts are small, but we are convinced they are part of the revolution. Thank you for joining us.
With Gratitude and Love,
on behalf of the Catholic Worker community