By Bren Dubay
In the Roman Empire, mustard was a sign of power. But for mustard’s power to be released, it had to be crushed. It had the power to heal — a bad cold, tightness in the chest, a stuffy nose? The Romans took mustard, crushed it, made a balm to rub on their chests to help them breathe better.
Despite this ability to heal, people in Jesus’ time hated mustard. It was an invasive plant that could take over a whole garden. Think kudzu or pigweed or some other pesky weed. And, yet, Jesus said the kingdom of heaven was like a mustard seed.
Author Shane Claiborne was referring to mustard when he wrote, “The Jesus revolution is not a frontal attack on the empires of this world. It is a subtle contagion, spreading one little life, one little hospitality house at a time.”
He wrote this before COVID — I’m not sure we hear “a subtle contagion spreading” with much comfort these days … but COVID aside, I think the metaphor works. It illustrates Jesus’ upside-down power. I am writing this on Palm Sunday. He rides into Jerusalem today and we know the events that lay ahead. He is going to be crushed, ground down, and broken. Then the healing balm is released.
During Lent we can choose to do something that crushes us a little bit, something that grinds us down, maybe even breaks us a bit. Not in a morbid, harmful sort of way but in a way that releases a healing balm, a balm that will course through our veins infusing us with an upside-down kind of power — the power of kindness, of decency, of compassion, of gentleness. Power that makes us courageous in our welcome of others. Power that makes us brave enough to truly love the other. Power that makes us unafraid to will the best for another.
Holy Week has begun. What’s behind us though? How have we spent our time this Lent? Have we prepared for Palm Sunday? For the week that is ahead of us? Is our faith any different today than it was on Ash Wednesday when we began this Lent? How have we used our time?
Even if we haven’t done much to observe this time of Lent, it isn’t too late. Jesus is amazing that way. It is never too late. We still have a week. A week full of the Great Drama. A time to let the transforming power of Christ work on us — a time to sing “Hosanna in the highest” as he makes his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. A time to imagine a Passover meal with friends that perhaps begins with levity but ends with something heavier in the air. A time to be in a garden late at night losing our fight against the sleep over taking us. A time to crouch by the side of the road and see him stumble under the weight of a cross.
Then Easter. Easter can change us, can make us different, can make us new. Easter takes the gentle crushing of Lent and transforms it into something with healing, upside-down power. But Easter, like Lent, won’t force itself on us. We have to invite it in and allow it to permeate us.
Oh, that mustard would take over our gardens.