He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 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. Matthew 13:31-32
Seeds are small and mustard seed is the “smallest of all the seeds”. How strange it is that Jesus uses a tiny mustard seed to liken the Kingdom of God. Is God also little? Usually we use words such as “great” “almighty” “all powerful” “awesome” “majestic” to describe the character and power of God. However, Jean Vanier, a catholic theologian, sees the littleness of God in the person of Jesus.
Commenting on the stories of Incarnation and Crucifixion, Vanier says, “Mary was not shocked by the weakness or littleness of God; the tears and the cry of the child Jesus; his needs, his hurts; his anguish and agony. Mary was at the cross standing close to Jesus stripped and vulnerable, in communion with her beloved son” (Befriending the Stranger) In his writings Vanier frequently uses words like “weak”, “little”, “humble”, and “vulnerable” to describe God and Jesus.
Jean Vanier is very fond of the Gospel of John and published several books on John. In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus is tired and sitting by a well. He asks a Samaritan woman for water and also promises to give her the living water. Vanier’s description and interpretation of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is very moving and penetrating. He writes, “But the One who comes to give us new life is tired. He comes to us and asks us for help as a little one. It is a vulnerable God who comes as a beggar, asking us for help. It is he, the Broken One, who will awaken us in love and give us new life. (Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John). The Bible says Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The little Jesus, the beggar Jesus, the tired and thirsty Jesus, the broken Jesus reveals to us the vulnerable, gentle, humble, and loving God.
Why does Jean Vanier feel special connection to this little and weak and humble Jesus? Is it because he sees this little Jesus in the faces of the weak and little people all around him all the time? Vanier is best known as the founder of the L’Arche, French for the Ark, which is a global network of communities where those with and without disabilities live side by side as equals. The network was begun in northern France in 1964 when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends.
The humble and little Jesus calls all of us to serve the little and the weak in the society. We are also to recognize our own vulnerability, our own weakness, and our own need for mercy and compassion. That is the heart of Jean Vanier’s Christian faith. His faith in the little God is not passive but active, not pessimistic but hopeful, not weak but empowering. He writes, “We want a big God who fixes our problems. We don’t want a little God saying, ‘I need you and I’ll come and live in you. I’ll give you a new strength, a new spirit and you shall work so people become free and loving and peacemaking.’ We always want a God who is going to fix our problems, but God is saying, ‘I’ll give you the strength so you become one of those who work with others to bring peace to our world.’” (Encountering ‘the Other’).
Desmond Tutu, another great Christian thinker and activist of our time, expresses similar thoughts. Tutu writes, “It is through weakness and vulnerability that most of us learn empathy and compassion and discover our soul.” (God Has a Dream) “ Each of us has a capacity for great good and that is what makes God say it was well worth the risk to bring us into existence. Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God’s purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness. God has no one but us. St. Augustine of Hippo has said, ‘God without us will not as we without God cannot.’” (No Future without Forgiveness)
The Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed. To enter this Kingdom, we are to “do small things with great love” (Mother Teresa).
（This article was written for Mountain Mover [August, 2017], the montly newsletter of Faith Lutheran Church, https://faithbellaire.org/about-2/mountain-mover-newsletter/ )