Luke 13:18-30 “The First Last, The Big Little”
According to Sociology Professor Michio Kaku, the number one indicator of future success of a child is not the IQ test. In fact he makes the point that there are plenty of really high IQ people who are at marginal subsistence in their own lives. I have known a few. High intelligence is not the greatest thing in the world; it may turn out to be a curse to some.
No, according to Dr. Michio, the number one indicator of success for the future of a child is the so-called “Marshmallow Test.” I am sure that you have all heard of this test. It is very simply. You tell a child: “You may either have one marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in an hour.” The child who chooses two marshmallows will have the advantage in life of greater success. Why is that?
The difference between one and the other is obviously delayed gratification and the ability to see future events as real possibilities. This is in essence the ability to recognize a plan for tomorrow. This is to a large extent one of the most major differences between us humans and the rest of the animal world.
If I were to go to my dog Nikos and tell him that he could eat one chicken right now, or have two chickens the next day, he would just look at me and whimper for the chicken! No offense to my dog, but he has no concept of tomorrow. That is why when I come back late and see him at the gate of the kennel waiting for his walk, and I am tired, and I start bargaining with him “I will take you on an extra long walk tomorrow,” we always end up walking in the middle of the night. He only knows the present. He only knows what he knows—that he wants to take his walk when he sees me!
What does this have to with our Bible reading for this day? Jesus is giving us a marshmallow test that is really hard. Jesus is saying: “Here have a mustard seed.” He promises that one day it will be a tree that will provide shade and birds will be able to nest in its branches. However, today it is just a really small and insignificant fleck in the palm of the hand. Unless you can see what it will become, you probably would not even want it. It is not even a marshmallow. This is an interesting test for us, no?
When I was growing up, mustard was considered a weed in our yard. It would grow up out of the ice plant on the hillside and have to be painstakingly hand weeded out. I have lost many a gorgeous Saturday morning to pulling mustard! So, this I know for sure, one little mustard seed can take over your yard in no time. Jesus certainly got that right!
Jesus also brings up a simile of yeast. This simile also strikes close to home. Yeast is so small, and it is in the air all around us, and we do not even realize it. I love the story of how yeast was discovered and what it was originally used for. The story goes that in ancient Egypt, before they knew how to make bread, they would take the wheat kernels and soak them in water to soften them into a mush or gruel. This is the only way they knew how to eat it. The seeds are too hard otherwise. One could easily break teeth for sure. The longer the mush stayed mushy, the easier it was to eat. One day someone discovered that the mush was getting foamy on top. The natural yeast that is in the air around us found a host in the wheat mush and started a yeast colony. Then, someone added more water put a lid on it and created the world’s first fermented yeast drink. That would be Egyptian beer. From beer, we eventually gained the first bread as the yeast culture was then added to ground wheat. And, also from beer we developed the buffalo chicken wing so that we would want to drink more beer!
So, think about what Jesus is giving us here! He is saying, “I will give you these little bugs that are floating around in the air that you cannot see, but please know one day you can make a pizza with it!” Just add the tomato and cheese yourself. This is way, way, beyond that marshmallow test. This stuff is in the air around us, and we do not even see it. Is that not the Kingdom of God?
Is the Kingdom of God part of YOUR plan for the future then? Or, would you rather just eat that marshmallow today? When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Thy Kingdom Come!” We pray for it to come, but I wonder how many of us really set our life’s plan on its breaking through into this world? Are we looking forward to that two-marshmallow reward?
One of my favorite sayings from Saint Paul is in his address to the church in Ephesus 2:19, “So you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints. . . .” Hmmmm, think about that; we are no longer citizens of this world but rather of the heavenly kingdom that is to come.
Remember Jesus when he stands before Pilate in John 18:36 and proclaims that his Kingdom “is not of this world.” That is right. The Kingdom of God is here. It is like the yeast in the air that is about to be mixed with the flour. It is like the mustard seed about to be planted. The King himself was here already, so we follow in that same sense of citizenship to a Kingdom established with Jesus Christ.
Which Kingdom do you choose as your state? Where is your citizenship? Now I know I am not supposed to get political. So, excuse me for just one minute as I talk about migration. Not here, but in Russia. Two years ago the Levada Institute, the last free pollster in Russia at the time that has since been branded a “foreign agent” and forced to close down under Putin, shared that of Russians between the ages of 18-35 an even 40% admitted that they would like to leave Russia. Since then, 1.5 million of them have done just that. That is actually greater than 1% of their general population. If you are in a room of 5 people in Russia, 2 of them want to follow you back home to the United States. That is for many reasons of oppression that they suffer, but also the basic economic reason that the average monthly household income in Russia is lower than that of India!
That was the reason for the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain! It was to keep people in, not keep people out. When the walls came down, the exodus started and still continues today. To be fair, some folks have decided that they would want to live in Russia. The most famous of these is Gerard Depardieu, the French actor, who asked for and was granted citizenship in Russia after complaining that the taxes in France were too high. Last week, Gerard Depardieu was indicted in Russia, also, for not paying his taxes to the Putin government! Looks as if he will have to choose another citizenship—again.
Jesus is talking about migrating to the Kingdom of God. Why not? We already have citizenship rights there! Yet, when we get to the door at the border, we hear that it is indeed a very narrow door. Why should that be?
You know, our church actually has narrow doors! Have you ever noticed that? The good thing about having narrow doors is that nobody can slip by without being noticed. If you are a visitor, it is really hard not to be met at a narrow door where you will receive you lei from one of the deacons.
Obviously this must be the same with the Kingdom of God. We have to come through one at a time. There be no group entrance to this realm where Jesus is King! This was fresh idea for the Jewish folk hearing this. You see, in Judaism you are saved because you belong to the group that is considered “the chosen people of God.” There is little one has to do to make it well into the next world. Your salvation is in the blood of the generations that came before, not in the blood of the Savior who took death upon himself that you may have eternal life.
Jesus is now claiming that we have to stand individually before Jesus to be entered into the Kingdom. You cannot just sneak by. You are going to have to be recognized. You are going to have to have an individual personal relationship with the Savior without which when you knock at the door, Jesus might not recognize you after all.
How many people will come in then? That is the question that is asked. And, today there is much confusion among some believers about this very issue. You may have heard that some believe that only 144,000 will ever make it into heaven. That number is found in Revelation 7 for instance. Those who make this claim as being definitive have neglected to keep on reading whereafter it says that the multitudes of multitudes will be there in heaven worshipping their Lord. Let us never make the mistake of reading one verse out of context. Please always consider the bigger picture of what is being reported in the biblical text! Those who claim only 144,000 will be saved are patently wrong for not reading the entire text.
Jesus goes on to state that the first shall be last and that last first. The big shall be small and the small big. So, as citizens of heaven, we should come to expect the unexpected. Everything may be turned upside down through Jesus. It is just like those signs in Hanapepe that read “The biggest little town on Kauai.” The kingdom of God is the biggest little thing there is!
I want to close today with a bit of science: According to scientists at the start of the Big Bang that created what we know as our universe, at 10 to the –35th power of one second, the observable universe was just about 17 centimeters big. That is about the size of a soccer ball. And, if that is truly the case, then the next big bang is just now the size of a mustard seed, but it will be the biggest little mustard seed of all time!