“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”- Luke 13:19
We were sitting on the steps of the cathedral. It was still early. It takes a while for the children to find their way to this regular meeting place. A man walked up to the front of the cathedral, waving a well-used bible in his hand, and started preaching at the top of his voice. He is a street preacher from a local pentecostal church. It was hard to make out what he was saying exactly. He fluctuated between frantic screaming to quiet mumbling. I have a feeling that he mumbled through the best bits. Nevertheless he got the attention of many. Some were filming him. Others just stopped and watched his antics for few moments before going back to business. No one actually was listening. The preaching sounded a little erratic and wasn’t creating any real connection with the people. This fact didn’t seem to bother him. Besides us, there were homeless adults and some young ladies watching this scene. The ladies were tourists who had just visited the cathedral. Then, out of the blue, a Roman Catholic priest walked by dressed in his cassock. It seemed like a joke was in progress, all we needed now was a rabbi. The tourists immediately approached the priest. It seems like they had something on their mind and wanted to speak to a religious figure. They chose the priest instead of the preacher. He listened intently to them while in the background the man was shouting something about sin and idolatry. The priest prayed with the tourists and blessed each one with the sign of the Cross on their foreheads. The ladies were visibly pleased and we overheard one of them say that she felt very blessed today. The priest then turned to the people sitting on the steps and reached out and shook the hands of a homeless man. He prayed a short blessing and the man smiled at him appreciatively. He made an effort to do the same for the rest of homeless adults. Finally he made eye contact with us and smiled and did the same for us. After which, he walked quietly back into the church. Meanwhile our solitary pentecostal preacher continued screaming his head off. Everyone eventually lost interest in him and he gave up and left.
Two kinds of Christianity were displayed right before our very eyes. One was very visible and had the attention of many but it did not touch anyone. The priest, even though he was part of the established church, was basically invisible. Hardly anyone noticed his presence except those who were close by but, in a very brief moment, he connected with many.
Visible Christianity is often heard and seen in the world. It is the religion that makes outrageous and embarrassing statements and proclamations. They claim that they are doing everything for the gospel but in reality they are only making themselves visible. They want the world to know that they are a strong and powerful presence. They adopt the methods and standards of the world. Everything becomes a question of strategy and numbers. People are no longer the end but a means to an end. Their end is visibility in the world. This religion has more in common with the spirituality of the Pharisee which Jesus spoke ardently against in the gospels. Jesus criticized them not because they adopted the principles of the world in their spirituality but because they claimed that they had monopoly of true spirituality. This seems to be the attitude of visible Christianity.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”- Matthew 6:1
Jesus and the apostles did preach in the streets. They did not preach for the sake of preaching or promoting their movement. They preached to connect with people. Jesus did not heal to show that the gospel was true. He healed because He wanted to heal people. He did miracles because He had compassion for the people. He wanted people to understand the true nature of the gospel. For Jesus, it was always about the people. They were His goal. He wanted to connect with them. Nothing He did was to promote His own visibility. He spoke out against such attempts. Satan tempted Jesus with instant visibility in the world. Jesus turned him away. It is not compatible with the gospel. Visible Christianity is a kind of Christianity that is just visible but it doesn’t connect with people. It preaches a different gospel where people are just a means to an end.
“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed….” Luke 13:19
I used to be a little confused about this reference to a mustard seed. A mustard plant is not a tree but Jesus made it sound like it was. I heard preachers say that this reveals Jesus’ sense of humor. It is a bit of a stretch. A closer look at the verse reveals that Jesus wasn’t talking about mustard plant. He said that that it was like a mustard seed and not a mustard seed. The presence of the Kingdom of God can be so small and quiet that it can be easily overlooked like a mustard seed. However, the potentiality of this small presence or lack of visibility does not hinder it from reaching great heights. The lack of visibility should not concern us because it doesn’t mean that it is not powerful. From Jesus’ perspective, being small is very positive. This concept is contrary to the system of this world. In this world, big always seems to be better because it has visibility. The world operates and understands only one reality; the material reality. The gospel opens the spiritual dimension to us. Unfortunately, Christians are more impressed with the material than the spiritual reality of the gospel. Christians seem to be always more impressed with bigger churches even when they do nothing to promote the reality of the gospel. Small churches are always considered in the negative light. No one speaks highly of a small church because small is synonymous with impotence according worldly standards. This idea is so prevalent and influential that even I believed it at one point. I still battle against it because I live in this world. However, we are not of this world and our Lord is our guide to live according to the principles of the Kingdom of God while functioning in this world. Our Lord Himself never bothered with having a large group of disciples. He avoided large crowds whenever possible. He refused to promote His own visibility even when his own family recommended it (John 7:3). He refused to break bread with those who were influential in the world. He walked and dwelled with those who were invisible in society. He always took the time to be with the people because they were his goal. He sought to build relationship with his disciples. He knew them by name. He knew about them. He knew them. This was only humanly possible in a small group.
The world overlooks the small because it is not focused on relationship. the world want us to achieve goals and results especially when they improve visibility. Small actions are invisible actions as long as the world is concerned and so are not commendable. Sometimes the media spotlights invisible actions in the news and always reduces them to something sentimental and vacuous. They just become nice and sweet stories that bring warmth to our otherwise cold souls. This is not how the Kingdom of God understands small and invisible actions.
The invisible priest did what came naturally to him. He wasn’t trying to draw attention to himself. He wasn’t trying to give visibility to the gospel or the church. He just lived the gospel in a simple way. In our churches and communities, there are tons of Christians who live the gospel in an invisible manner. Sometimes, they are members of churches that promote visible Christianity. They can be elderly women who visit their friends who are lonely. They can be people who always try to help those who are grieving with simple gestures of comfort. The priest prayed for the people around him. He did nothing spectacular. He just did simple things that almost anyone could do, except for the blessing of course if you are from a liturgical tradition. The priest connected with people within his means. This is something all of us can do but not everyone can preach in the streets. The gospel is about connecting us to people and through us, we hope people can see the Eternal Hope in Christ.
The children arrived shortly afterwards. We sat and drew with them. Caio came up after a month of absence and asked to play a game of Uno with me. We sat together and connected with each one. Not many words were spoken but there was a strong connection. If there wasn’t, the children and teens wouldn’t spend hours with us. Someone passing by would not understand what we were doing. They would think that we were wasting our time. It doesn’t matter. We are not doing it for them. We are doing this because it is good and wonderful to be connected with the people God brings to us. The message of the gospel is a message of reconciliation. When we connect with people in genuine way, the power of the gospel is manifested beyond words in the lives of everyone.
The priest in his invisibility has touched not just our hearts, but the hearts of the tourists, as well as some of the homeless who had eyes and ears to see what the Holy Spirit is doing.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches”- Rev. 2:29