In John’s gospel we read how, late one night under cover of darkness, Nicodemus, a well-respected Pharisee and influential leader in his community, crept quietly to see Jesus.
He travelled at such an unusual hour for fear of his being associated with a “rabble-rouser”, a “friend of sinners”, a “wine-bibber” and “false messiah” like this teacher from Nazareth. Yet something drew him, nonetheless. Jesus, presumably knowing that his reputation had restricted Nicodemus’s movements in this way, tells him: “The wind blows where it wishes… So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Then in Luke’s gospel, telling stories of what his kingdom was like, Jesus says to the crowd: “It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
Now, this may seem like a simple gardening-based parable, but in reality, the people gathered listening to Jesus would have been a bit confused. After all, to them, mustard was a nuisance plant; a weed. The naturalist, Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History published around 70 AD, wrote about mustard, saying: “It is scarcely possible to get the place free of it.”
What’s more, when you think about it, a mustard plant doesn’t grow into a tree that birds can nest in. It’s about a metre-high shrub at best. In truth, Jesus was alluding to an Old Testament image of the Messianic kingdom – a great cedar that the noble eagle would perch in. Except again, Jesus seemed to be subverting things. Some scholars think that Jesus, rather than meaning “all the birds of the air”, was actually referring to scavenging birds of prey in this passage; which leaves us with the picture of God’s kingdom as a weed that grows out of control and becomes a home for vultures and scavengers. Nice.
The other thing I’ve always found funny is the Celtic Christian image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose. I mean, a goose? Really? Not exactly the most graceful of birds, is it? Also, there’s a reason grumpy goose is a saying, right? Don’t disturb a goose, or you’ll get some flack! Then again, there’s always that beautiful, melodic call a goose has, which is not beautiful, or melodic, because it’s essentially a honk. I’ve always found it strange. Still, Mark Batterson, in his book Wild Good Chase writes: “Much like a wild goose, the spirit of God cannot be tracked or tamed. An element of danger, an air of unpredictability surround him.”
There’s something compelling about these three images: the untamed wind, the uncontrollable weed; the wild and raucous goose.
In our day to day, I wonder if we miss the move of the Spirit; the breaking out of the kingdom, because it seems to us like nettle in the middle of our well-trimmed lawn? Do we, when faced with the loud honk of the spirit prompting us to do something counter-cultural, embarrassing, or self-sacrificial, find ourselves dismissing it as static on our otherwise crystal clear HD picture?
Are we making room for the unexpected? Do we too quickly dismiss the different, the awkward, or, what seems to us as the downright silly? Maybe, just maybe, those things are the very way that God is trying to break through into our well-ordered lives.
One of the oldest prayers of the Church is: “Come, Holy Spirit.” May we be bold enough to pray that prayer today.