People are becoming increasingly anxious about the future of the church universal and Christianity as a whole. During the pandemic, we witnessed a big church Exodus. Families with children especially became cautious of the germs or needed to decide whether the football games on Sunday afternoons or church in the mornings have higher priority. I get it. We need to set priorities at a stressful time. add the cultural divide and increased suspicion against the church due to conservative Christian opinions against abortion or clergy abuse in many denominations. The raining holdouts and hopefuls in the church pews now ask: is this the end of the church as we know it?
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus and his disciples face the tough truth that their message of the kingdom of God is not only heard with enthusiasm. On the contrary, many people do not like that message. Many people were opposed to it because it was too radical. Some even said it was not according to Jewish law. In that situation, Jesus tells his disciples a variety of parables – stories, one could say, with unexpected endings. He then uses images such as the growing of a mustard seed and blows them out of proportion:
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.”
Well – a mustard seed hardly turns into a tree, much less into one that can house birds. The story reminds me of the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk. The beans become so big and high that Jack is able to go into the clouds and meet a giant. He outwits the giant, and takes many of the valuables with him for a better life.
I found this interesting version of Jack and the Beanstalk online, and it has a very interesting twist. Though I won’t spoil everything, this story made for children has an unexpected twist to it – like in the parables. I laughed about some of those twists, one of them being that Jack meets Jill. And it makes me think that any story writes its own ending. Jesus’ parables, the stories with unexpected endings, remind us that anything can happen – even if we think we reached the end of our story.
The church as we know it may be fading. But that does not mean the church will die. Our story may well unfold in a way Jesus’s parables do, in unexpected ways – into the kingdom of God. All we do is trust in our own creativity, our own ideas, and embrace the unexpected with love.