Like a tomato seed

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By mid-afternoon, much of Jose’s garden is shaded by its large banana trees. An occasional breath of breeze from the nearby river bed rattles the dry banana fronds, offering some relief from the heat, and stirring organic green, wafts of tomato plants and dusty compost.

But the path to the river is steep and it’s not hard to imagine the countless trips to the river itself to carry water needed for the growing vegetables amid the baking heat of Timor Leste’s dry season. That there is a healthy garden here is testament to Jose’s hard work, and his commitment to his family and his neighbours.

Planted on the bank of a broad river bed, it’s a village we would struggle to find on a map of a country, and many of us would struggle to find on a map. Here we heard the first news of the United States’ 2016 election result, haltingly downloaded with intermittent phone reception, but nonetheless stunning for its feeble delivery from yesterday’s news half a world away.

That afternoon’s headlines precipitated wave after wave of media uproar, reporting, analysis, and commentary. This might be the only report of Jose’s garden. But it might be more important.

Jose received training in establishing and growing a “kitchen garden” as part of an ADRA project in nearby Indonesia. His enthusiasm for what he learned was part of the impetus for ADRA beginning a similar program in his home village. When ADRA began training in plant propagation, making compost, setting up irrigation systems, using better gardening techniques, and eventually incorporating more vegetables into their diet, Jose established his own garden plot in addition to those of the “official” ADRA project.

If “the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field”—as Jesus taught (Matthew 13:31*)—the kingdom of heaven is also like a tomato seed planted in Jose’s hot, dry riverbank garden. In this garden, the green smells of plants and the rising blush of ripening tomatoes are manifestations of this kingdom.

At every stage of the process, the values and citizens of the kingdom support the opportunities of this garden. Donors and church members, ADRA staff, even Jose himself, play their role according to their kingdom priorities. It isn’t perfect. At all levels, the work is difficult—“By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat” (Genesis 3:19)—and progress often faltering.

But this kingdom measures success and significance in unexpected and counterintuitive ways. The small and the weak are treasured and cherished. The “cup of water” offered generously (see Matthew 10:42) might be more important than an army on the march. Watering the fragility of an uncurling tomato seedling in a tropical garden can be more powerful than an election result. [pullquote]

Believing this—practicing this—requires faith, hope, and imagination. The kingdom of heaven demands seeing with new eyes and in new ways. We are called to resist the persistent voices of news, commentary, and other media that perpetually urge their headlines and breaking stories as most important and urgent. Instead, we recognise the power in every mustard seed and every tomato plant, in every small act of love, goodness, and beauty. Because it is imbued with the power of resurrection and the reality of the kingdom of heaven, every seed has eternal possibilities and implications.

This is not to say that “big” news is unimportant, or that we should not be involved and concerned in larger political processes in which can raise our voices. But “the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23)—sometimes look like smaller acts of everyday kindness, careful listening, and simply helping others grow better gardens and have access to better food.

If the kingdom of heaven is like a tomato seed, these are the small things we should be looking out for in faithfully growing the kingdom, serving its people, and following our God.

Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia. Article originally published at

* All Bible quotations are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ã 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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