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Small, hidden, made for those on the margins

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

Message for worship at West Richmond Friends Meeting, 26th of Seventh Month, 2020 Speaker: Brian Young Scripture: Matthew 13:31–33 (34–35), Ezekiel 17:22–24 Good morning, Friends! Matthew 13:31–5, NRSV: 31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 34 Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. 35 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.” Some years ago when Stephanie and I lived in Chicago, for a few years running she had a plot in a community garden in our neighborhood. Like most Chicagoans, we lived in an apartment building, where there was little room for gardening—we a had a window box or two, but that was about it. So she needed some nearby ground in which to grow tomatoes and peppers and a few other things. One year, the bed that she was assigned needed extensive prep work, for a previous gardener had planted mint at one point. Some of you probably know what this means. Mint is one of those useful plants that you’ll see in a lot of gardens—but you need to tend it carefully, because if you turn your back on it, it will own you. It spreads by sending out runners above ground, and under the ground the rhizomes send up new shoots by the dozens. It grows so thick that it crowds out just about everything else. And it will get everywhere. A lot of people keep it under control by growing it in containers. And in the garden that Stephanie was working, it was indeed in a container—but that was an eight-foot by four-foot raised bed! Stephanie had been given half that space, and if I remember correctly, the mint had planted in the other half, probably all the way down at the other end, but had spread throughout. There wasn’t anyone tending that other half of the box, so it seemed like the best thing would be to get rid of as much of it as we could. I’ve read some gardening advice that says, “oh, mint roots are shallow, and it isn’t hard to pull,” but that was not my experience. It took multiple sessions to get all those thickly-packed shoots out, that spring. Persistent stuff. I’ve never encountered it in a garden, but I think that mustard has some things in common with mint. It’s a useful plant, cultivated for millennia, but you have to watch it. It doesn’t spread the same way that mint does, but as Jesus says in the parable, its seed is very fine and small—this is the part of the plant that is harvested as a spice and flavoring. But if you don’t get all of that seed, the remnant will be taken in the wind, spreading hither and yon—and in many places in the US, the kind of mustard that we’re talking about here is classified as an invasive plant—a