In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the mustard tree, probably the black mustard which is not native to Ireland. He talks about it giving shelter to the birds of the air. Perhaps we might look at one of our native trees, the oak, which apparently supports four hundred different species of insects, fungi, birds and other wildlife. An oak grows slowly but steadily. Jesus had compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed which is minute. Had he lived in Ireland he might have looked to the oak, which originates in the humble acorn, for his example.
“The kingdom of God” is a phrase Jesus used frequently in the synoptic gospels, especially in parables. He used images like “the pearl beyond price”, “the treasure found in a field” and a “fishing net” (Matt 13:44-51). It is the rule of God in the universe, a coming kingdom, and - like the mustard and oak tree - it grows slowly. As Our Lord said, it sprouts as people go about their business. Likewise, God’s kingdom develops often unseen. He works while we are unaware of his presence, bringing forth all kinds of wonders of which we never dreamt.
The tree as a shelter is an attractive picture of God’s realm. In the film Of Gods and Men, which is set in Algeria, the French Trappist monks and the Muslim villagers live together in harmony and mutual respect. The villagers see the monks as the branches on which they can perch. The Kingdom of God grows in such fertile soil.